You already know that sports are beneficial for your physical health. But there’s more good news. In recent years, research has also found that sport participation can positively affect your mental health. Here’s how.
1. Sports improve your mood
Want a burst of happiness and relaxation? Get involved in a physical activity. Whether you are playing sports, working out at a gym, or taking a brisk walk, physical activity triggers brain chemicals that make you feel happier and more relaxed. Team sports in particular provide a chance to unwind and engage in a satisfying challenge that improves your fitness. They also provide social benefits by allowing you to connect with teammates and friends in a recreational setting.
2. Sports improve your concentration
Regular physical activity helps keep your key mental skills sharp as you age. This includes critical thinking, learning, and using good judgment. Research has shown that doing a mix of aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities is especially helpful. Participating in this kind of activity three to five times a week for at least 30 minutes can provide these mental health benefits.
3. Sports reduce stress and depression
When you are physically active, your mind is distracted from daily stressors. This can help you avoid getting bogged down by negative thoughts. Exercise reduces the levels of stress hormones in your body. At the same time, it stimulates production of endorphins. These are natural mood lifters that can keep stress and depression at bay. Endorphins may even leave you feeling more relaxed and optimistic after a hard workout. Experts agree that more quality research is needed to determine the relationship between sports and depression.
4. Sports improve sleep habits
Sports and other forms of physical activity improve the quality of sleep. They do this by helping you fall asleep faster and deepening your sleep. Sleeping better can improve your mental outlook the next day, as well as improve your mood. Just be careful not to engage in sports too late in the day. Evening practices within a few hours of bedtime may leave you too energized to sleep.
5. Sports help you maintain a healthy weight
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend sports participation as a healthy way to maintain weight. Individual sports, such as running, cycling, and weightlifting, are all particularly effective ways to burn calories and/or build muscle. Staying within a recommended weight range reduces the likelihood of developing diabetes, high cholesterol, and hypertension.
6. Sports boost your self-confidence
The regular exercise that comes with playing sports can boost your confidence and improve your self-esteem. As your strength, skills, and stamina increase through playing sports, your self-image will improve as well. With the renewed vigor and energy that comes from physical activity, you may be more likely to succeed in tasks off the playing field as well as on it.
7. Sports have been linked to leadership traits
Team sports such as soccer, baseball, and basketball are breeding grounds for leadership traits. Studies done in high schools reveal a correlation between sports participation and leadership qualities. Because of the opportunity to train, try, win, or lose together, people involved in sports are naturally more inclined to adopt a “team mindset” in the workplace and in social situations. The team mindset leads to strong leadership qualities over time.
Benefits for children
Sports can benefit children in many of the same ways that they benefit adults. The biggest difference is that when children start participating in sports at a young age, they are far more likely to stay active as they grow older. The same source suggests that participating in a team sport improves academic performance and results in more after-school participation.
What to keep in mind
Some popular team sports, including American football and ice hockey, commonly result in injuries. Frequently reported sports injuries include sprains, contusions, and broken limbs. Most sports injuries will result in a complete recovery if there is proper medical attention. However, some injuries, such as brain trauma and concussion, can cause permanent, lifelong damage to the athlete.
Concussions have gotten more attention from the sports community in recent years as their occurrence has increased. The CDC has specific guidelines about how to avoid and recover from concussions related to sports. Repeated head trauma can completely reverse the benefits of sports participation, leading to depression, reduced cognitive function, and suicidal tendencies.
Exercise-induced asthma is another condition reported by many athletes. If you are practicing a sport several times a week and begin to develop asthma symptoms, it’s important to pay attention. Ask your doctor or a training specialist about breathing exercises and practice them. They may help you avoid developing chronic asthma. Your doctor may suggest taking medications prior to exercise to help reduce asthma symptoms as well.
The pros of participating in sports are plentiful — from the advantages they provide to young children, to the proven link to mental health and happiness, and of course the endorphins they trigger. There is no shortage of reasons to find a sport to get involved in. Pick one and get moving!
Speak to your doctor before beginning any sports activity. Make sure that your heart is healthy enough for strenuous exercise. Keep in mind the possibility of serious injury and exercise-induced asthma. Though there are hazards to participating in sports, there are some that are safer than others. If you are worried about injury, consider a low-impact sport such as swimming.