Athletes are heroes, inspirations to try harder, and sources of local and national pride.
It’s easy to forget they can have problems, too.
Certainly, athletes are at the same risk of mental disorders as anyone else. A study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine In Sport in 2015 examined 224 elite female and male athletes in Australia. The researchers found that over 46 percent of the athletes in the study had symptoms of depression, eating disorders, social anxiety and other mental disorders. Additionally, injured athletes had higher symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder and depression.
Concern over the mental health needs of athletes – particularly student athletes – helped create Athletes Connected, a groundbreaking collaboration between the University of Michigan’s (UM) Depression Center, School of Public Health and athletic department. Previous studies done at UM found 1 in 3 college students had serious depression or anxiety symptoms, and yet only 30 percent of them ever got help, a percentage that decreases to 10 percent for student athletes. According to UM’s School of Public Health Research Digest, over 90 percent of UM athletes participated in the program.
Swimming coach and former competitive swimmer Jeff Grace describes the benefits that yoga and meditation have had in improving his mental health. Mindfulness meditation – a secular version of meditation practiced in Buddhism and other religions for centuries – is gradually becoming a common tool for treating mental illnesses.
What is mindfulness?
According to the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, mindfulness involves being aware of one’s environment, thoughts and sensations. Mindfulness also stresses simply accepting one’s feelings and thoughts rather than judging them, which allows practitioners to truly live in the moment. Mindfulness has slowly developed into a mainstream practice largely from the work done by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in the late 1970s.
Many studies have shown mindfulness meditation appears to have mental and physical benefits. A study published in the journal Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging found 30 minutes of mediation a day for eight weeks increased a person’s amount of gray matter, the brain tissues involved in processing information. Additionally, a review of clinical trials of meditation programs that appeared in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2014 found meditation programs had some benefit for people with anxiety, chronic pain and depression.
Recently, some clinicians are making use of a clinical tool that blends exercise and meditation.
Finding the mental MAP
Mental and physical training (MAP) consists of a combination of meditation and aerobic exercise. In a typical MAP session, participants train mentally for a half-hour – 20 minutes of focused meditation followed by 10 minutes of walking. This is followed by a half-hour of moderately intense aerobic exercise.
In 2015, researchers from Rutgers University studied MAP’s impact on Rutgers students, some of whom had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder. After eight weeks of MAP exercises, the researchers found their subjects experienced nearly a 40 percent decline in depression symptoms; even subjects who hadn’t been diagnosed with major depressive disorder showed a decrease in symptoms.
Despite the National Institute of Health reporting that nearly 80 percent of people treated for depression show improvement within two months, it’s still a condition, like anxiety, that often goes untreated. The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance estimates nearly two-thirds of the people with depression never seek help.
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About the author
Brian Moore is a staff writer and graphic designer for the Sovereign Health Group. A 20-year veteran of the newspaper industry, he writes articles and creates graphics across Sovereign’s portfolio of marketing and content products. Brian enjoys music, bicycling and playing the tuba, which’s he’s done with varying degrees of success for over 25 years. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author and designer at email@example.com.
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