MAKE A DIFFERENCE | workplace culture / mental health / wellbeing

Can a Body Change its Mind?

So, can a body change its mind? That is the question we posed ourselves last year and we will continue to explore for many years to come.

Focused on the mind

I work for the sports brand ASICS. And ASICS isn’t like other sports brands. And that has everything to do with our founding purpose.

ASICS was founded in Japan in the aftermath of World War II. Our founder, Kihachiro Onitsuka, recognised the power of sport to bring hope and optimism and saw that sport had an impact beyond the body and on the mind. That’s why we‘re called ASICS  –  “Anima Sana in Corpore Sano” or “a Sound Mind in a Sound Body.”

We believe our purpose and our focus on the mind is perhaps more relevant today than ever before. Which is why we are so keen to explore how the body, and more specifically moving the body, can have a positive impact on mental wellbeing.

We’re not moving enough

There have been countless scientific studies that prove that exercise has a positive impact on our mental wellbeing. Yet the truth is that many people don’t move nearly enough.

And we know this inactivity is especially true for “office” workers – wherever that office might be right now.  So many people tend to be shackled to their desk and screen for most of the day and rarely get up and move, even though they probably know they would feel better if they did.

So, we wondered if we could do something about it.

We spoke to HR Directors who told us that although the mental wellbeing of their employees was a huge priority, movement based programmes to tackle stress and anxiety are currently not the norm. We were told this was mainly because employees lack the time and the motivation to exercise, and businesses themselves lacked the facilities.

A short movement based programme for all employees

So, in 2019 we started a project called ASICS Movement for Mind. We wanted to see if we could develop a short, movement based programme that would be enjoyable for employees, accessible to all and grounded in science.

We would then work with a mental health researcher to put the programme to the test and see if it had an impact on an employee’s mental wellbeing.

We worked with a fantastic group of experts to gain input and insights to develop a simple, eight-week programme that combined moving (obviously!),  being outside, being with others and paying attention to our breathing.

Having developed the programme, we then put it to the test, on ourselves.

Practicing what we preach

In January 2020, 60 ASICS employees volunteered to take part in a feasibility study and were randomly assigned to either the control group or to the group which would participate in ASICS Movement for Mind.

The feasibility study was conducted by Dr Brendon Stubbs, a leading researcher on the impact of physical activity and mental health.  Those taking part in the study were required to join a twice weekly session of 30 minutes for eight weeks.

I was one of those who participated.

And even before we saw the results from Dr Stubbs, I knew the programme was having a positive impact. Just simply getting away from my desk and having someone guide me through a 30 minute session, was something I really looked forward to. It was time to decompress, to be in nature, to be silent and to focus on the feeling of movement.

The impact of ASICS Movement for Mind, so far …

Although the feasibility study is only a precursor to the main trial, it is a good indication for future results. And the results shared by Dr Stubbs are very encouraging.

Dr Stubbs confirmed that the preliminary quantitative analysis suggests that, versus the control group, the ASICS Movement for Mind programme:

  • Improves mental wellbeing
  • Reduces depressive symptoms
  • Increases weekly walking
  • Reduces daily sitting time

Commenting on the results Dr Brendon Stubbs said: “Although we haven’t yet conducted the full trial, the preliminary results give us a good indication. The data shows that those people who took part in the feasibility study improved their mental wellbeing and level of physical activity compared to those in the control group. ASICS Movement for Mind is a simple programme that anyone can take part in, so these results are very encouraging for the future.”

Our commitment for the future

We were planning to conduct the main trial of ASICS Movement for Mind in May 2020, but clearly COVID-19 prevented that. But we do feel that ASICS Movement for Mind is more needed then ever before. So, we plan to continue the trial next year, albeit in a socially distanced format.

We already have an incredible group of companies who have agreed to be trial partners. And we are always keen to hear from like-minded companies and individuals who share our passion and our purpose.

I look forward to sharing the definitive results of the full ASICS Movement for Mind trial at the MAD World Summit 2021.