Fitness & Exercise
The Mental Health Benefits of Sports
Benefits for Body and Mind
Playing sports does more than whittle your waistline and firm up your calves. Research shows that you can reap mental health advantages from playing sports, too. Whether you like the single-minded focus of running or walking, or prefer the camaraderie of a softball or basketball team, you’ll feel better if you play sports. Read on to learn more about what sports can do to lift your spirits.
Improve Your Mood
Want a burst of happiness and relaxation? The Mayo Clinic recommends physical activity. Whether you are playing sports, working out at a gym, or taking a brisk walk, physical activity stimulates brain chemicals that make you feel happier and more relaxed. Team sports in particular provide a chance to unwind and engage socially, all while improving your fitness.
Sharpen Your Focus
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that regular physical activity can help you keep important mental skills sharp as you age, including thinking, learning, and using good judgment. According to the American Heart Association, doing a mix of aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities, which are common to most sports, three to five times a week for at least 30 minutes can provide mental health benefits.
When you are physically active, your mind is distracted from daily stressors, freeing you to think more creatively. Exercise reduces the levels of stress hormones in your body, such as adrenaline and cortisol. At the same time, it stimulates production of endorphins, which are natural mood lifters that can help lower your stress levels. Endorphins may even leave you feeling more relaxed and optimistic after a hard workout on the sports field.
Keep Depression At Bay
“Go out and play” is good advice not only for children, but also for adults who are feeling blue. Researchers at Duke University studied 156 people with depression who were randomly assigned to treatment of solely aerobic exercise, exercise plus an antidepressant, or an antidepressant alone. After four months, all three groups showed improvement in depression symptoms, but after 10 months, the exercise only group had the lowest rate of depression recurrence.
The Mayo Clinic notes that sports and other forms of physical activity can improve the quality of your sleep, helping you to fall asleep faster and to deepen 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.
Boost Confidence and Self-Esteem
The regular exercise that comes with playing sports can help 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. Sports provide you with a sense of mastery and control, which often leads to a feeling of pride and self-confidence. 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.
You Can Spare 10 Minutes
Does the thought of exercising make you want to lie down? According to the Mayo Clinic, even 10 to 15 minutes of exercise can improve your mood. That’s about how long it takes to walk to the mailbox and mail a funny card to a friend, take the neighbor’s dog for a stroll, or dance to three of your favorite songs. In that short span of time, you’ll be on your way to a better frame of mind.
- American Heart Association recommendations for physical activity in adults. (n.d.). American Heart Association. Retrieved June 19, 2013, from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/PhysicalActivity/StartWalking/American-Heart-Association-Guidelines_UCM_307976_Article.jsp
- Babyak, M. et al. (2000). Exercise treatment for major depression: maintenance of therapeutic at 10 months. Psychosom. Med., 62(5), 633-638. Retrieved June 19, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Exercise+treatment+for+major+depression%3A+maintenance+of+therapeutic+benefit+at+10+months
- Depression and anxiety: exercise eases symptoms. (2011). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved June 19, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/depression-and-exercise/MH00043
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- Physical activity and health. (2011). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved June 19, 2013, from http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/health/
- Physical activity improves quality of life. (n.d.). American Heart Association. Retrieved June 19, 2013, from http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/PhysicalActivity/StartWalking/Physical-activity-improves-quality-of-life_UCM_307977_Article.jsp
- 7 health benefits of exercise. (2011). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved June 19, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/exercise/HQ01676.