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Top Five Athletes Changing The Game for Wellness and Mental Health

People are paying more attention and spending more money than ever on their mental and physical well-being. According to McKinsey & Company, Americans spend more than $450 billion in the United States on wellness products and services. Plenty of products and innovations exist; athletes lead the charge to spread the word and set an example. Here are five athletes who are making a big difference:

1. Simone Biles withdrew from the team final at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, citing her mental health.

A four-time Olympic gold medalist and a record 25-time World Championships medalist, Simone is considered by some the greatest gymnast of all time. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, she had one of the most dominant performances, winning individual gold medals in the all-around, vault, and floor, a bronze on the balance beam, and a runaway victory in the team competition. She did not compete in 2017, co-authoring a best-selling autobiography and competing on Dancing With the Stars (placing fourth), among other things. But at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, she had some challenges during her qualifications. Still, Simone was the only gymnast to qualify for all the individual finals. With her team in second place, Simone withdrew from the team competition due to the "twisties," a phenomenon among gymnasts who lose control of their bodies as they twist through the air. According to NBC News, she said the "twisties" started randomly happening to her the morning of the preliminary competition, adding she "literally can not tell up from down."

Given the difficulty of her routines — and the daring flips and twists — not having a command would pose a severe risk of injury. On Instagram, she added that she felt "the weight of the world" on her shoulders, given the immense pressure. Simon's teammates held on for the silver medal without her, and she rooted them on. Since then, she's become more vocal about her mental health, collaborating with a telehealth provider to advocate for mental health. On March 6, 2023, Simone and elite skier Mikaela Shiffrin joined a Laureus Sports Instagram Live ahead of International Women's Day to discuss the importance of mental health. "I saw the experience that Mikaela went through, and I had just gone through that, so I didn't want her to feel alone, and [I was] like, 'Hey, it's OK. This stuff happens. You're still amazing; who cares about the comments?'" Biles said, according to "You don't understand how hurtful it is already to feel like I've failed myself, then you have the weight of the world, everybody, telling you failed and all that stuff."

2. Tom Brady announced his retirement in early February for the second consecutive year.

Tom, 45, has set a new standard for excelling well beyond most professional athletes. In the physically demanding NFL, Tom is the NFL's oldest quarterback to be named to the Pro Bowl (44), named Super Bowl MVP (43), and named MVP (40). In his mid-20s, Tom said he was "hurting all the time," according to Business Insider, and he believed he needed to make dramatic changes to his health to play into his 40s, as he had hoped and planned. Working with his longtime trainer Alex Guerrero, Tom aggressively changed everything, from his workouts (focused on flexibility, not heavy weights), to his diet, which consisted of all-natural and whole foods and drinking up to 37 glasses of water per day. In addition, he went to bed by 9 p.m., refraining from eating dessert (except for dark chocolate) and consuming caffeine or alcohol. Tom said on his TB12 website that he's proactive about his choices. "I realize I'm an active participant in my decision to feel as healthy as possible at all times," he says."

3. Cristiano Ronaldo remains a force in soccer at age 38.

Skinny and lean when he joined Manchester United in 2003, he started to develop a reputation for his impressive physique, though that came with plenty of sacrifices. He has shared openly about the importance of stretching and proper warm-up exercises to avoid injury and mixing up his training to ensure he addresses all parts of his body. But that's not all. "A good workout must be combined with a good diet," he said, according to "I eat a high protein diet, with lots of wholegrain carbs, fruit, and vegetables, and avoid sugary foods." Cristiano has worked with a personal dietician for over a decade and mainly eats six small meals daily. His diet is heavy on fish — he especially likes swordfish and sea bass — and he consumes a lot of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. Lastly, Cristiano has long highlighted the importance of rest, which includes naps. "Proper sleep is really important for getting the most out of training... I go to bed early and get up early, especially before matches," he told Men's Health. "Sleep helps muscles recover, which is really important."

4. LeBron James reportedly spends $1.5 million annually on his body.  

In February 2021, a Los Angeles Lakers assistant coach announced that figure during an Instagram Live, and the story picked up a lot of traction. Mixed Martial Arts fighter Conor McGregor cited LeBron when he admitted that he was starting to spend more time and money on his health and body. But LeBron's transformation took a lot of work — and a lot of convincing. Regarding his diet alone, his first personal chef Glen Lyman told Sports Illustrated that LeBron had a habit of eating Fruit Loops out of a mixing bowl before they started working together. LeBron no longer works with Lyman, but a personal chef isn't the only specialist on his home team. LeBron also works with trainers, including one who is a former Navy SEAL and physical therapist. He also enjoys hyperbaric chambers, which puts more oxygen into his body, and old-fashioned ice baths for recovery. At 38 years old, LeBron continues to be one of the league's best players, recently becoming the all-time leading scorer in NBA history. He was also named an All-Star for the 19th time, averaging under 30 points per game. 

5. Michael Phelps has been among the most outspoken mental health champions. 

Perhaps one of the most decorated Olympians ever (with 28 medals across five Olympics) found himself in a very dark place after a series of mistakes toward the latter part of his illustrious swimming career. He first opened up about his depression and anxiety challenges in 2015 in an interview with Sports Illustrated. "It's not going away tomorrow. Through my journey and through my struggles, the ups and downs, and the depression, not wanting to be alive — all of these feelings for me were scary," Michael said, according to Health Care Finance News. Michael said he first dealt with depression after the 2004 Athens Olympics, "I can go back to 2004 and say that was when I first experienced it," Phelps said, according to "That was the first time I came across depression coming back from the 2004 Olympic Games. I suffered from post-Olympic depression pretty bad." A teenager, he had just had the second-greatest performance at a single Olympics with six gold medals, just one less than swimmer Mark Spitz in 1972. Michael noted that he hid his mental illness well, but he's committed to raising awareness, including through his nonprofit, the Michael Phelps Foundation. 

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