A Fitness Examination of Sound Body Sound Mind


t started as a nonprofit organization in 1998 founded by Cindy and Bill Simon with a focus on supporting public schools. Their first installation was a fitness center at Palisades High School under the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). They immediately saw a change in students’ attitudes towards exercise, which snowballed into a mission to open more fitness centers across the city. Bill Simon, an assistant adjunct professor in both the UCLA Department of Economics and the UCLA School of Law, and recipient of the Marty Sklar My Last Lecture Award, told UCLA, “Our ultimate goal is to ensure that every student has the opportunity, knowledge and tools to pursue a healthy lifestyle through physical fitness.”

Since its creation, Sound Body Sound Mind (SBSM) has grown to 152 centers and impacts nearly 200,000 students each year. Along with the fitness center, SBSM develops an exercise curriculum and provides professional development training.

Its mission: “To promote self-confidence and healthy lifestyle choices among today’s youth.” Amelia Sherman, manager of communications and programming at SBSM, is deeply connected to this mission. She attended an LAUSD school, and although she didn’t know it at the time, her school’s fitness center was one of SBSM’s first.

The organization merged under the UCLA Health Foundation in 2020. Since the transition coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, Sherman says there were adjustments to how the organization partnered with schools, pivoting from “opening as many fitness centers as possible” to “nurturing current schools and setting up the foundation to grow.”

Now in their 25th year, they are pushing to revamp their current fitness centers. Sherman and her colleague recently visited all the 152 schools in SBSM’s network and determined the state of each of the centers. They are working to review the currently active programs and ensure that their funding dollars go to the sources that need it the most. They use metrics, derived from Health and Human Services and CDC data, to see the areas where the health disparities are the greatest, so they can focus their funding there. Since the program has been in existence at some of these schools for close to 25 years, Sherman says, “UCLA plans to repair any equipment or train new teachers and make sure that they have the knowledge of the science behind the fitness centers.”

Sherman explained how SBSM uses state-mandated physical fitness tests as beginning and end markers to determine if the program is successful. According to the SBSM website, “Since 2017, across 30 schools that completed data collection, the average FitnessGram pass rate before our program was 39%. After implementing our program for an eight-week period, passing rates improved to 59%.” This data shows the correlation between the centers and curriculum that Sound Body Sound Mind implements.

Along with the physical testing, they also have students complete a wellness survey which asks about resources and support within their community regarding physical education awareness and their attitudes towards it. Both the fitness tests and the surveys are used to measure the effectiveness of the centers and the organization’s partnership with the schools.

Since SBSM works with local public schools, they often face the problem of overextended administrators and teaching staff. Even after they partner with a school, the staff may not be able to fully utilize the resources provided to them, leaving the resource untouched. Sherman explains, “Before initiating the program, [SBSM] trains all PE teachers. Teachers are the stewards of the program to promote healthy lifestyles with their students. They are the ones receiving the resources, so it is beneficial when they completely understand how to use them.” She says, “Once we give a fitness center to a school, it is the responsibility of the school site to maintain and repair it, but it's often forgotten, unfortunately. So we see a lot of schools that don't receive the best care.”

Another challenge the organization has faced is the long-lasting impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. She says, “We see in the data that student fitness levels have taken a nosedive after the pandemic.” Sherman explains that it is beyond the control of just one program, but she hopes that based on their positive results, SBSM can help students return to a stable baseline.

The name Sound Body Sound Mind was based on research that showed “if you exercise more, you feel better.” In 2021, the organization created a mindfulness education curriculum with the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA. Despite the curriculum’s proven benefits, it was difficult to implement because the video lessons required students to lose their exercise period. However, they have used this challenge to refocus on physical education and its benefits to mental and physical health.

Sherman shares a similar sentiment regarding the current state of fitness education across Los Angeles. “Going to all these schools, going to different neighborhoods, you can really see the divide in the resources that each school site has.” She says, “It's so important that students have the ability to walk into a room and feel confident in a gym setting so they can have lifelong fitness.”

Having grown up in Los Angeles, Sherman enjoys the close connection she has to the program and sees it as a “legacy of giving back to her community.” She says many UCLA alumni attended SBSM schools and now have a chance to make a difference for the future. “If alumni want to give back to their community, they can make a contribution. But on a personal level, they can always just get out and keep moving.”


To learn more about Sound Body Sound Mind and ways to help, visit https://www.uclahealth.org/programs/soundbodysoundmind

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