30. How Physical Activity Can Enhance Mental Wellness with Drs. Shannon McHugh and Jesi Sasaki

May 18, 2021 | 0 comments

After last week’s episode, I wanted to continue the conversation about changing the way we view traditional mental health. I knew the perfect guests to share in that conversation. Last week we discussed the benefits of art and music incorporated into psychotherapy and today we’re diving into how physical activity can play a vital role.

Today on the Diverse Thinking Different Learning Podcast, I have Drs. Shannon McHugh and Jesi Sasaki. They are both certified fitness trainers, certified nutrition specialists, and licensed psychologists. They are on a mission to educate children and parents on socio-emotional fitness through physical activity. They believe that approaching mental health through the lens of overall well-being will not only reduce the emotional or behavioral problems that are present in many children today but will prevent mental health issues in the long run.


I completely agree and I am thrilled to have them here to discuss the amazing work that they do.


Show Notes:

[2:57] – By continuing the conversation about changing the way we view traditional mental health, our guests today make a connection with last week’s guest on art and music integration.

[4:14] – Shannon describes how she met Jesi and the realization of their shared interest in the physical activity aspect of mental health.

[5:24] – We need to give kids an understanding of mental health in a fun and exciting way before they move into therapy.

[6:10] – A lot of the problems that Dr. Sasaki sees in the students she works with were things that she did not experience. The connection was team sports and physical activity which help develop life skills.

[7:57] – Shannon and Jesi were recently speaking with a researcher regarding physical activity and the pandemic. They have had to get creative during sessions.

[9:13] – Right before the pandemic hit, they developed a curriculum. Dr. McHugh describes the design of the course that is in addition to a physical education class.

[10:21] – They had to pivot because they were not able to use the curriculum they designed due to the pandemic. They are seeing amazing things in the individuals they work with.

[11:23] – One of the skills incorporated into the curriculum is mind and body awareness. Dr. Sasaki explains how they accomplished this in the curriculum and what it means.

[13:32] – Another life skill that this type of curriculum can help develop is responsible decision-making.

[14:12] – With individual therapy, Dr. McHugh and Dr. Sasaki didn’t feel like they were getting anywhere. But their current program is showing much more success.

[16:03] – In a perfect world, all adults would know all of the important life skills necessary for mental and physical well-being. But not all adults are educated in this way.

[17:02] – Teaching life skills in the moment through team activities has been fundamental for Drs. McHugh and Sasaki.

[18:21] – Shannon expresses concern that many of these things are not taught in schools. She hopes to bring these programs to schools to use as part of their curriculum.

[19:30] – There is so much research that supports the mind-body connection but it is still not properly taught in schools.

[20:07] – Jesi explains that they work with a lot of retired NFL players who are very familiar with physical activity and exercise but they don’t have the emotional piece of it.

[21:11] – Because they began as child psychologists, both Jesi and Shannon understand the need for movement to reach a child. Sitting and talking can only do so much.

[21:40] – PCIT stands for Parent-Child Interaction Therapy and both doctors are passionate about this program because it teaches parents to become therapists for their kids through play.

[23:57] – If a child is struggling with ADHD, they are going to struggle with emotional and sensory regulation. Occupational therapy is extremely helpful here but many parents don’t know this.

[25:44] – Just moving in certain ways can sharpen your thinking. Cognitive flexibility can improve after just one physical activity.

[26:48] – Preferred activity brings people so much joy and should be used to help children learn crucial life skills and coping skills.

[28:01] – In response to more physical activity breaks, some people worry that students will not perform well, but research shows that the adverse effects are true.

[28:59] – The timing of physical activity makes a difference in academic performance as well.

[30:53] – Shannon advises families coming together to do their own version of physical activity together. This enhances relationship-building and encourages movement.

[32:50] – There is going to be a transition period between the pandemic and moving towards normalcy. Be sure to be patient and manage the expectations of children. 

[34:41] – Physical activity is also important to ward off other health issues, specifically obesity.

[35:53] – When you set yourself up for being active and moving your body you are more likely to have a better immune system.


About Our Guests:

Dr. Shannon McHugh and Dr. Jesi Sasaki aim to change the way that people view traditional mental health by focusing on prevention, brain development, mind-body connection, and team sports concepts. Their mission is to provide education about socio-emotional fitness to people throughout one’s lifespan by incorporating creative, engaging, and effective learning strategies that make learning (and growing!) more fun!

They specialize in providing psychotherapy treatment and mental wellness educational coaching for people of any age. Their passion involves combining concepts of physical activity and emotional health coping skills, so their focus has been working primarily with children and current/former athletes, though they believe that anyone can benefit from their unique approaches.

Connect with Drs. Shannon McHugh and Jesi Sasaki:

Links and Related Resources:


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