Now you can measure the mood-lifting power of exercise in real time
Mind Uplifter is the world's first study where people can directly see the impact that movement has on their minds - right after every workout
We all know exercise is good for the mind - there's no shortage of literature, studies and anecdotal evidence linking a healthy mind and body. But until now there hasn't been a way to track it in real time.
Many people struggle to maintain an exercise routine for weeks and months because life gets in the way. It's a tough sell to encourage someone to go for a run or to exercise a few times a week for months and then feel like a new person - but what if they could be shown immediate results?
They can. This month, Asics launched Mind Uplifter, the world's first real-time study where people can directly see the impact that movement has on their minds.
Asics is a Japanese multinational corporation which produces sports equipment designed for a wide range of sports. Its name is an acronym of the Latin phrase anima sana in corpore sano, which means "You should pray for a healthy mind and body".
Taking part is simple. The site scans your face and asks a few questions prior to exercise. Once you're done exercising, you do the same again and voila, the results are displayed. Asics says this is no gimmick and is backed by scientific vigour.
Asics says: "The data will feed into a live global study, capturing individual Mind Uplifts from around the world and visually transforming them into a dynamic and interactive world uplift map. The map will quantify the positive impact that sport is having on the collective mood of cities, nations and the world."
The Mind Uplifter launch featured Marco Solmi, project lead and clinical researcher at the Collaborative Outcomes study on Health and Functioning during Infection Times (Coh-Fit), who spoke about the current state of mental wellness around the world, and Dr Brendon Stubbs, research physiotherapist at King's College, who unpacked the science behind the Mind Uplifter initiative.
According to Solmi, their findings - the result of 150,000 responses from 155 countries - show that the longer the pandemic drags on, the more the world collectively struggles with mental health.
"There's an increasing number of people suffering from mental health conditions across the globe. One of the key findings was that people rated exercise as the most important way to positively impact mental health, followed by being on the internet, and contact with other people."
Stubbs said the research study underpinning the programme spanned months and yielded promising results in the shape of improved emotional and cognitive metrics related to exercise. He explained that the combination of technology and self-reported data has been shown to be 92% accurate for cognitive scores and 94% for emotional scores.
The strength of this concept is the real-time feedback to the individual
It sounds intriguing, but what would it mean for average folk, or those struggling with mental wellness? Martin Scheepers, a counselling and sports psychologist, said he's not surprised that the concept was launched and that it was only a matter of time.
"The immediate benefit is the immediacy of the concept," he said. "If you look at the body of research around the effect of regular exercise on productivity, mood, energy levels and more, there's a strong case to move.
"The strength of this concept is the real-time feedback to the individual. It's one thing to read about clinical research, but another to go and do the exercise and get immediate feedback on how the exercise has benefited your emotional state. In some ways it's bringing clinical research into a person's everyday life - this can have a tremendous impact."
However, though he appreciates that it's a motivational tool, he also contends that there's a risk it could cause anxiety for some people.
"When the competition aspect kicks in, the feedback information may not be what the person expected to see, and this could conceivably cause emotional stress.
"I think about the Strava running app. It is a great tool, but I've had clients who eventually deleted it to reduce their stress. They were expecting to see improvements every time they ran, which, as we know - just like all exercise - isn't feasible."
Ultimately, though, as a psychologist he's excited to see the global initiative because he's a firm believer in the power of exercise to help the mind. "Every client I work with as part of my intervention - whether they're 14 or 104 years old - no matter what they're seeing me for, is affected by some kind of physical exercise that's appropriate to their capabilities."
The evidence keeps coming in, with New Scientist reporting in mid-May on research linking exercise to being more creative, improved self-esteem and the ability to reach "altered states of consciousness".
I asked British Triathlete Beth Potter during the launch event whether sometimes people are just too down to start moving. What advice did she have for people who know exercise is good for the mind but struggle to get moving in the first place?
She said being part of a group or club is a good start, as a sense of community is a powerful motivator to start exercising.
Perhaps contributing to a global study with personalised results will be another motivator to get up and exercise. There are up to 20 different types of exercise to choose from, so this isn't just for runners.
Ultimately, curiosity about the programme itself may well make more people leave their sofas to exercise and see what the global study is all about and how the programme works.