My Opinion – Sports & Mental Health

The Mind-Body Connection: Sports, Fitness, and Mental Health

The Mind-Body Connection: Sports, Fitness, and Mental Health

Did you know that since 1983, each U.S. president has proclaimed May as National Physical Fitness and Sports Month?  

Me neither. The presidential declaration is to promote the importance of physical activity, physical fitness and sports participation.

The idea of the government promoting exercise goes back to the 1940s, but in 1956 then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower made it official when he created the President’s Council on Youth Fitness. 

Over the years, the name has been tweaked a few times, and several presidents have made an effort to broaden the council’s impact. In recent history, then-President Barack Obama introduced nutrition as a critical element of fitness and renamed the agency the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition (PCSFN).  

In 2023, when President Joe Biden issued Executive Order 14109, renewing the council until September 2025, he added an emphasis on mental health as it pertains to physical fitness and nutrition. I’m not sure why it took so long to begin a focus on mental health, but I’m glad someone advocated for the change in policy.

Many folks think the mind and body are independent of each other, however, mental health and physical health are actually closely linked. Our mental health plays an enormous role in our overall well-being. 

Simply put, being in our so-called “happy place” can keep us physically healthy. For example, according to a 2015 study by Nancy Sin, PhD, at Pennsylvania State University, there’s mounting evidence from large-scale studies demonstrating that a positive mental state is protective against cardiovascular disease. She also reports that a “glass half-full” attitude is linked to a stronger immune system.

However, this connection goes both ways.  Recent studies show physical exercise contributes to positive mental wellness. In a report published in January on the National Center for Biotechnology Information’s website, regular physical activity improves the functioning of the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis. 

This is the part of the brain that controls our reactions to stress and regulates our mood and emotions. It’s no wonder why so many clinicians recommend a regimen of physical exercise to improve depressive and anxiety symptoms.

Even though the effects of exercise on mental health have been shown to be beneficial, these outcomes aren’t always sustainable or even guaranteed. Earlier this year, a well-known athlete whose superhuman exploits have been well-documented in the pages of SPORTS ’N SPOKES shared with me his struggles with maintaining his mental health.

Surprisingly, following a significant mental breakdown, he told me that temporarily distancing himself from his athletic career was paramount to his recovery.

As counterintuitive as this may sound, similar approaches to mental well-being have worked for other high-profile athletes such as swimmer Michael Phelps, gymnast Simone Biles and tennis player Naomi Osaka.

Do I really need the government to tell me that if I stop eating corn dogs and get more exercise I’ll feel better? Probably not. But after several decades of existence, the PCSFN has had a positive impact and, regardless of your political affiliations, I think we can all agree the inclusion of mental health in the council’s work is significant.

After all, how many times have you heard someone say, “Sports saved my life?”

Happy National Physical Fitness and Sports Month!

As always, let me know what you’re thinking at

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