Fitness Trends Survey Gives Short Shrift to Mental Health

in Featured, Uncategorized, Wellbeing

Body builder

American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recently announced the Top 10 fitness trends for 2023, based on its international survey of fitness professionals, who were asked to rate specific trends on a scale of 1-10.

The findings are ho-hum:

  1. Wearable Technology
  2. Strength Training with Free Weights
  3. Body Weight Training
  4. Fitness Programs for Older Adults
  5. Functional Fitness Training
  6. Outdoor Activities
  7. High Intensity Interval Training
  8. Exercise for Weight Loss
  9. Employing Certified Fitness Professionals
  10. Personal Training

The survey* included almost 3,000 respondents from the US.

Conspicuous Absence of Mental Health

Exercise for Weight Loss is a high-ranking trend, as we’d expect. But, despite a global movement to raise awareness about mental health at a time when mental ill-health and deaths of despair are reported to be at all time peaks, Exercise for Mental Health apparently wasn’t even listed as a possible trend for respondents to rate — an inexplicable omission by ACSM, especially as physical activity is ubiquitously cited as a building block of emotional well-being.

Less unexpected: Exercise for Brain Health also is omitted, despite the fact that evidence links physical activity — more than any other behavior — as a moderator of risk for age-related cognitive decline and dementia. Generally, wellbeing leaders haven’t given brain health the attention it warrants, but this undoubtedly will change as the prevalence of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease increases in coming years.

The 1990s Called. It Wants Its BMI Charts Back.

Hey, ACSM… Exercise is good for cardiovascular health, physical functioning, and (you’d have us believe) weight management. We get it. But it’s time to grow. Why not join the global public health movement — play a leadership role, even — to support emotional wellbeing and brain health? Including them in your survey — especially as you already list more esoteric possibilities — would be a start.


*ACSM’s article in its Health and Fitness Journal describes the survey instrument as including “42 possible trends,” which we may interpret to mean that respondents were asked to rate a provided list of possible trends — actually 42 – 51, depending on each country’s survey customizations. The full list of trends in the US survey apparently isn’t published (I’ve reached out to ACSM to double-check), but the 51 trends listed in Mexico’s report seem to be exhaustive, and the various analyses for each country, with year-over-year comparisons and listings of the top 20 and the least popular trends — yield clues about all the potential trends that were included.

Is the Sky Falling on Mental Ill-Health? Maybe not.

in Featured, Uncategorized

 

hand reaching up to the sky

 

Gallup recently published new data showing an increase in American’s self-reported mental ill-health. As Gallup put it:

Americans’ positive self-assessments of their mental health are the lowest in more than two decades of Gallup polling.

The polling and consulting company included this graph:

graph showing an increase in mental ill-health

The social media universe reacted with its usual outrage, pointing fingers toward the health care system, lack of primary prevention, big pharma, bad employers, lousy insurance, social determinants, and the other usual suspects. Most of these conditions, of course, almost certainly contribute to emotional wellbeing challenges.

Gallup, however, was more cautious in its conclusions:

Given the length of time between the measurements, the cause of this increase in mental health visits is unclear but likely the result of a number of factors. It may be related partly to the pandemic; to a growing appreciation for the importance of good mental health; to reduced stigma about seeking treatment — particularly among young adults versus older adults; to changes in the ways health insurance plans cover mental health treatment; or to other factors.

Indeed, upticks in mental ill-health metrics are not necessarily a bad thing. More than likely, part of the increase is due to bad things (limited access to care, insufficient preventive measures, etc.). And some of it may be due to good stuff (reduced stigma, compliance with the Mental Health Parity Act, etc.).

Employee benefits and wellbeing professionals, consider…

…We lament woefully low EAP utilization rates… and increased mental ill-health prevalence. Make sense? Maybe, because ideally we want more people seeking care (and/or preventive measures implemented) with the long-term goal of decreased prevalence. (Gallup did also report that more people are seeking care. Good, right?) But with this outcome being a distant goal, it seems we want to have our cake and eat it too: We want fewer people saying they need support, but more people receiving it.

Gallup got it right in stating, as objectively as possible, “this increase in mental health visits is unclear but likely the result of a number of factors.” The sky may be falling, but we can’t conclude that based on this Gallup data.