Updates on the Non-Physical Fitness Benefits of Exercise and Other KineSophy Topics

I started KineSophy ten years ago to explore connections between health, fitness, sports, society and philosophy. During that decade, I have looked at issues ranging from the many non-physical benefits of exercise to the myriad ways health and sports impact climate change (and vice versa). But these connections are dynamic, and recent developments build on the articles I have generated since the start of KineSophy. In this piece, I summarize several recent stories that further support some of the arguments I have made previously.

Softball and the Non-Physical Benefits of Exercise

I have written extensively on KineSophy about the effects of various fitness regimens in prison populations. (See previous articles on yoga and weightlifting in prison, as well as an article and interview about the San Quentin State Prison running club.) In short, a large body of research and anecdotal evidence supports the non-physical benefits of exercise for prisoners.

Research shows that yoga and weightlifting improve inmates’ mood and reduce stress, anxiety, depression, aggression, hostility and anger. San Quentin inmates reported that their regular running workouts also reduced depression and improved their mental endurance. And a pair of studies at Virginia and North Carolina prisons showed participation in yoga classes significantly reduced recidivism rates.

KineSophy’s fundamental thesis is that physical fitness and physical virtues have a place in a well-rounded theory of ethics. The fact that fitness regimens can improve the mindset and behavior of those who have violated moral and legal norms serves as a primary piece of evidence for that thesis.

A yellow softball on a softball field

A recent New York Times article provides additional support for that claim. In the 1990s, Japan’s iconic yakuza gangsters numbered around 100,000. They ran gambling and prostitution rackets, and were the subjects of fan magazines and popular crime fiction. But thanks to an aging population and a recent government crackdown, the yakuza’s numbers have plummeted to about 24,000.

With their tattoos, missing fingers and lengthy criminal records, former yakuza members have struggled to reintegrate into society. But as this article details, a softball team composed of ex-yakuza has helped many former gangsters build a new life. This new athletic pursuit has not been a perfect success. Some players admit their current businesses exist in a legal “gray zone.” But the team’s founder helps players find housing and honest employment. And new players must prove they have quit the yakuza.

Sports and physical activity are not a panacea for immorality or criminal behavior. But as evidenced by this article and other research, they can have a profound effect on moral conduct.

Physical Health and Academic Performance

Besides affecting moral behavior, physical health also affects mental wellness and cognitive performance. As outlined in previous KineSophy articles, students who are more physically active and physically fit show better academic performance than their inactive and unfit peers. Other research shows that exercise after a study session improves information retention and that children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder learn better while sitting on activity balls or exercise bikes. And in a 2020 KineSophy interview, Dr. John Ratey described how a Naperville, Illinois, school district changed its physical education program and saw big gains in student fitness and academic performance.

Unfortunately, poor children and adolescents participate less frequently in sports and fitness activities than do their more affluent peers. Often, this physical divide is driven by spending cuts and changing priorities at low-income schools. These cuts result in fewer physical education classes and organized sports for students.

Children playing flag football, illustrating some of the non-physical benefits of exercise

It is difficult to make firm assessments without knowing what other programs were candidates for cuts. However, research shows eliminating fitness opportunities for children could have consequences that extend beyond physical health. Poverty is already associated with obesity in the United States. Given the many non-physical benefits of exercise, cutting low-income physical fitness programs will likely worsen this epidemic while also harming low-income students’ academic performance.

Economic Benefits of Health

Besides the cognitive performance association, physical fitness also has a direct economic impact. Research shows that people who exercise regularly earn more money at work than those who don’t. As I have argued on KineSophy, this potential earnings bump is another reason everyone should be concerned with physical fitness.

New research bolsters the connection between physical health and economic outcomes. A recent study compared people whose parents had similar health profiles and socioeconomic backgrounds but were born before or after sugar and candy rationing in the United Kingdom. The researchers found that adults born after rationing ended were 18.5% less likely to go to college and 16.6% less likely to have a high-skill job than adults born into sugar rationing. As a result, the post-rationing adults were also less likely to accumulate wealth than those who grew up with rationing.

In other words, physical health matters—not just for physical wellbeing, but for a host of other benefits that extend into all spheres of life. And the evidence for these connections continues to mount.

Climate Change and Baseball

A baseball outfielder jumping for a fly ball

From rising temperatures and sea levels to extreme weather events, climate change will profoundly affect life as we know it. In addition to these potentially disastrous effects, climate change will also impact countless other aspects of our daily lives, including sports and personal health. In previous KineSophy articles, I detailed how rising temperatures and other environmental problems altered the most recent Winter Olympics and exacerbate issues ranging from obesity to diversity in sports.

Now, a new study sheds further light on how thoroughly climate change has affected our lives. According to a Dartmouth College analysis, warmer temperatures have added about fifty home runs per year in Major League Baseball.

As the air warms, it becomes less dense and offers less resistance to balls struck by a bat. Baseballs fly farther in warmer, thinner air, meaning some fly balls that might once have been warning track outs now turn into homers.

Obviously, a few dozen extra home runs each year is not a huge issue in the grand scheme of things. And even scientists agree other factors contribute more to baseball’s recent home run surge. Livelier balls (until MLB deadened them in 2021), an emphasis on swinging upward to hit more balls in the air, stronger hitters and faster pitchers have all fueled baseball’s power upswing. But this research illustrates the depth and breadth of climate change’s effects.

Sports are only the beginning when it comes to climate change, but affecting the games many fans love may help reinforce the pervasiveness of this crisis.