Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Bullying, Exercise and Suicide Risk

In previous posts, I have written extensively about using physical fitness to develop emotional resilience and the connection between physical and mental health. A recent study on bullying, exercise and suicide risk confirms both these relationships.

20% of students across the United States say they have been bullied on school property. In this study, authors looked at data from 13,583 U.S. adolescents in grades nine through twelve collected by the National Youth Risk Behavior Survey (Center for Disease Control). Of those surveyed, 30% said they experienced sadness for two or more weeks in the previous year, 22.2% reported suicidal thoughts, and 8.2% said they attempted suicide. Bullied students were twice as likely to report sadness and three times as likely to report suicidal thoughts or attempts.

However, students who exercised at least four days per week showed significantly less sadness, suicidal ideation and suicidal attempts. The benefits of exercise were even greater for bullied students. Bullied students who exercised at least four days per week showed a 23% reduction in both suicidal thoughts and attempts.

The study's authors recommend further research to identify the mechanism by which exercise can help at-risk teens. I hypothesize that being bullied makes one feel powerless in one's own body because the bullied victim lacks the physical capability to oppose his tormentor. This feeling of powerlessness may become so frustrating over time that it leads the victim to imagine taking his own life or using a weapon to exact vengeance on the bully and/or other perceived threats.

Yet physical exercise has the potential to restore one's confidence in her physical capabilities. Through exercise, we become stronger and more enduring, but we also recognize our physical and mental power to overcome adversity. This lesson offers benefits for everyone, whether adolescent, bullied, or otherwise.

Friday, July 1, 2016

KineSophy Hall of Fame: Aristotle

Earlier this year, I described what the virtues I have espoused in KineSophy look like in real life. In continuance of this mission, I plan to recognize real individuals who exemplify the ethics of human movement with the creation of a KineSophy Hall of Fame. This month features the first inductee into the KineSophy Hall of Fame: the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle.

Born in 384 BCE in Stagira, Greece, Aristotle enrolled in Plato’s Academy at the age of seventeen and quickly became the philosopher’s most famous student. However, because Aristotle disagreed with some of his teacher’s philosophical positions, he did not inherit the academy's directorship following Plato’s death in 347 BCE, as many expected he would. Instead, in 338 BCE he accepted a position with King Philip II of Macedonia as the tutor for his son Alexander (later Alexander the Great). Three years later, he returned to Athens and founded his own school, The Lyceum, where he spent the next twelve years teaching, studying and writing. Following the death of Alexander in 323 BCE, the pro-Macedonian government in Athens was overthrown, and a charge of impiety was trumped up against Aristotle. He fled to Chalcis, where he died of a stomach illness in 322 BCE.

Aristotle wrote as many as 200 treatises, of which only thirty-one survive, and made contributions to agriculture, astronomy, biology, botany, cosmology, dance, ethics, history of philosophy, logic, mathematics, medicine, metaphysics, music, philosophy, physics, political history, political theory, psychology, rhetoric, theatre and theology. He is considered the father of logic because he was the first to develop a formalized system for reasoning. His influence on Western thought in the humanities and social sciences over the course of history is rivaled only by his teacher Plato and Plato’s teacher Socrates.

Of particular significance to KineSophy, Aristotle’s ethical theory recognizes physical virtues in addition to moral and intellectual virtues. Aristotle insisted that the good life is a life of activity, since we are rightly commended and praised for living good lives, and thus rightly commended or praised only for things we do, for actions we perform. He believed that previous philosophers, who discussed the soul in abstract without regard for the body, were mistaken in divorcing the two. Moreover, Aristotle lived in an era when sport was integrated with all other phases of life and was considered an essential part of life rather than the idealized philosophic abstraction that later scholars have wanted to ascribe to it. Aristotle compiled lists of the victors of the Pythian Games, which started in 586 BCE, and the Olympic Games, which began 776 BCE, an effort called a “contribution to the cultural history of Greece of the first importance,” (Thurmond). And most importantly, his writings specifically mention physical virtues such as speed and strength as deserving of cultivation and esteem.

Aristotle’s Lyceum was more than a school. It was also a space for physical exercise and military training. As he lectured at The Lyceum, Aristotle developed the habit of walking around the school grounds. Forced to trail after him in order to hear his lessons, his students were given the name of peripatetics, meaning “people who walk about.” Whether intentionally or unconsciously, this practice made Aristotle one of the first thinkers to recognize the connection between physical motion and cognitive function.

For his contributions to the foundations of the ethics of human movement and for his creation of peripatetic contemplation, Aristotle is the first inductee into the KineSophy Hall of Fame.

"Aristotle." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Online. 27 June 2016.
"Aristotle Biography." Online. 27 June 2016.
Morison, William. "Lyceum, The." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Online. 27 June 2016.
Oskvig, Kyle. "Harder, Faster, Stronger – Better: Aristotle’s Ethics and Physical Human Enhancement." Journal of Evolution and Technology, Vol. 23, Iss. 1, Oct 2013, p. 19-30. Online. 28 June 2016.
Shields, Christoper. "Aristotle." Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 29 July 2015. Online. 27 June 2016.
Thurmond, Ray C. "Aristotle’s Illustrative Use of Athletics and Physical Exercise." Online. 28 June 2016.