Since 2021, mental health has been placed front-and-center of sporting events across the globe. Most notably, in July of that year Simone Biles cited protecting her mental health as the reason she stepped down from competing in the individual all-around gymnastics final Tokyo Summer Olympics; and Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open while publicly identifying the affect that the sport and media challenges have had on her mental health.
Since then, English cricketers Ben Stokes and Nat Sciver-Brunt have both taken breaks from the sport for their mental health. American soccer player Abby Wambach has been vocal about her own struggles. It’s an issue that isn’t going away; a recent BMJ Journal article, authored by medics from Australia, found that youth elite athletes exhibit significant stigma and negative attitudes towards help-seeking, including being concerned about losing selection.
These high-profile instances are continuing to shift the narrative around mental health and its connection to physical fitness, which is changing how people approach and interact with the mind/body connection.
Plus, there’s the pandemic effect. According to Mintel, 53% of consumers said that the pandemic made them realise they want to take better care of their mental health. This shift impacted across all ages—while younger generations were already more inclined to address their mental health, 48% of consumers aged 45 and above stated that the COVID-19 pandemic motivated them to take better care of their mental health.
As consumers continue gaining a better understanding of the link between physical and mental health, they’re turning to fitness and health brands as guides to achieving wellness in both. We examine five brands who are earning gold medals for integrating mental health awareness into their overall messaging.
1. Nike + Headspace
This symbiosis between physical activity and calming of the mind has created a real emerging trend in the running world to be more mindful. This concept led Nike to a partnership with mindfulness coaching app Headspace to develop sport meditation content, taking a holistic approach to athleticism by integrating audio-guided runs directly into their Nike Run Club and Training Club apps.
The partnership has recently joined forces with Netflix too, to make these products even more accessible to consumers. Meditation sessions and even sleep aid courses are all there at the push of the TV remote button. By making mindfulness content accessible and easy to assimilate into a consumer’s existing routine, Nike is conveying to their consumers that they take both their physical and mental health seriously.
Keep, a Chinese social fitness app backed by investors such as Tencent, first introduced their home fitness initiatives in 2015. As their user-base grew they evolved to launch smart exercise devices, exercise equipment, and customized dietary supplements.
What makes Keep unique is its one-stop approach to health and wellness: a singular platform with a network of services, including motivational content, e-commerce, personalisation based on age and fitness goals, as well as online and offline social networking communities and events.
By making fitness and health pursuits a collective experience where consumers ‘gather’ in one place, users can feel more connected to each other and receive more support in achieving their goals, both important elements in maintaining positive mental health. This holistic approach to health has made Keep more than simply a fitness tool—it’s fully integrated into people’s lives and lifestyles, while also serving as a valuable aid in the ‘Healthy China 2030’ initiative.
When Apple’s iPhones and Watches each emerged on the market, they were game changers for helping consumers focus on and track their physical health stats like daily movement and sleep patterns. They also aided in identifying more specific health concerns like irregular heart rates and hearing loss.
Now Apple is working toward adding features centered on mental health. Using the data that the Apple Watch already tracks, such as mobility, physical activity, sleep patterns, and typing behavior, Apple is now working with UCLA researchers to determine if these metrics can also be used to reliably detect stress, anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders.
As a brand that promotes healthy eating habits and organic ingredients, Sweetgreen stands out as from other QSRs. Sweetgreen has moved even further away from their competitors as one of the only QSR brands that has integrated mental health into their messaging.
Following their IPO, their in-house promotions team launched a partnership with Naomi Osaka, who notably withdrew from the French Open for mental health reasons. The brand had already started connecting “food as a form of self-care” in their social media campaigns, but Osaka’s subsequent actions pushed the conversation about mental health wellness further to the forefront, giving Sweetgreen an additional opportunity to show their support for Osaka and connect mental wellness to their core brand values.
Research continues to support the evidence that physical health and mental wellness are closely linked. A recent survey from a first-world country, Singapore showed that exercising and consuming nutritious meals helps with managing their stress and anxiety level during the pandemic period.
Sport apparel giant Lululemon has partnered with the UN Foundation to respond to adversity, uncertainty and rapid worldwide change by developing a series of digital meditation tools. Originally created to help UN workers with evidence-based mindfulness to help them to care for their own wellbeing, Peace on Purpose now exists as a library of online audio guides open to everyone. Covering topics from managing loss and grief, to working with anxiety and finding calm, they’re led by experts from across the world, like clinical counsellor Hiro Demichelis and Kimiko Bokura, the founder of the Mindful Leadership Institute.
The brand has also joined forces with Los Angeles-based lifestyle and fashion brand, Madhappy, on a run-focused collection that’s inspired by both brands’ shared focus on sharing positivity and speaking candidly about mental health.
From guided meditation apps to sleep tracking to healthier quick food options, consumers are always seeking direction and motivation to lead them toward better physical and mental health. As this landscape evolves, brands can embrace this messaging by infusing it with empathy, authenticity, and relatability, and ultimately connect with their users beyond the products and services they offer.
About Michael Vaudrey
As Regional Head of Transcreation located at SGK’s Singapore office, Michael leads a strong team specialising in Adaptive Design, Visualisation, 3D, Animation, Ecommerce, Digital and Creative Photo Retouching spanning a variety of media channels for several key local and global clients including J&J, P&G, Coca-Cola, Unilever, Kellogg’s, Mondelez, Colgate-Palmolive & Woolworths.