#ESP2019 warm-up with Francesca Cirulli: „Healthy body - healthy mind?”

Updated: Nov 19, 2019

Mental health challenges affect a great portion of Europeans of all backgrounds. Lately, the discussion about the link between mental health and sport has intensified, that is why we will have a session on it at the second European Sport Platform on 5 October. Dr Francesca Cirulli, Senior Researcher and Group Leader in the Center for Behavioral Sciences and Mental Health of Istituto Superiore di Sanità will join us at the event and will present a European project on the topic. As a warm-up to this session at the #ESP2019, Francesca Cirulli shared some information with us about the project.

Q: What is the SPHERE project about?

A: SPHERE is a two-year project co-funded by the European Commission and aimed at fostering sport and physical activity in psychiatric rehabilitation programmes through the definition and sharing of scientific protocols based on sport practice with a main input from psychiatrists and academic researchers. The protocol will allow to identify the most suitable sport for psychiatric patients with different diagnoses and backgrounds to improve their psychophysical wellbeing. The project involves a consortium of important European partners coordinated by the European Culture and Sport Organization, and foresees the release of six intellectual outputs:

1. Best Practices Review and Map

2. Training Guidelines

3. Pilot Actions Data Review

4. SPHERE Protocol

5. Final Report

6. SPHERE Documentary

Q: Why is it important to provide sporting opportunities for people who are dealing with mental difficulties?

A: Over the last few decades, several scientific studies have shown how sport and physical activity can improve the psychophysical wellbeing of people with mental health problems. Exercise acts as a real therapy – complementary to psychiatric drugs – and plays an important role in preventing psychiatric disorders and enhancing the quality of life of those living with these conditions. Sports and their training methods are very close to psychiatric rehabilitation because they share many therapeutic values: they are easily accessible, stimulate self-confidence, self-esteem and self-awareness, and encourage socialisation and belonging to a group.

Q: During the data collection phase of SPHERE, you have collected some good examples of using sport in treating mental challenges. Please describe one of these good practices.

A: We have collected a great deal of best practices in many European countries that clearly indicate a universal benefit of sports – ranging from bowling, Nordic walking, jogging, football, trekking and golf – in psychiatric rehabilitation. In Italy we have developed a best practice using horse riding directed towards many different psychiatric conditions. I believe this type of sport experience has a double valence as it combines physical activity with an emotional relationship with a living being, the horse, which could be key to some of the benefits we have documented. We are indeed currently studying – with a neurobiology eye – what the human-animal relationship entails and how this combines with the motor component of this practice to connect body and mind.

Francesca Cirulli will tell us more about the SHPERE project on 5 October at the #ESP2019. The event is hosted by OPES Italia, and organised in partnership with the European Lotteries.