person playing tennis

Sports have always been known for their physical benefits. In recent years, research has also found that sport participation can positively affect your mental health.

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.

Sports Improve Your Concentration

Regular physical activity helps keep your key mental skills sharp as you age. This includes sharp 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.

Sports Reduce Stress and Depression

When you are physically active, your mind is distracted from daily stressors. This can help 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 help keep stress and depression at bay. Endorphins may even leave you feeling more relaxed and optimistic after a hard workout on the field. Experts agree that more quality research is needed to determine the relationship between sports and depression.

Sports Improve Sleep Habits

Sports and other forms of physical activity improve the quality of sleep. It does 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.

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. Staying within a recommended weight range reduces the likelihood of developing diabetes, high cholesterol, and hypertension.

Sports Boost Your Self-Confidence

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.

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 Young 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, leads to better scholastic outcomes, and results in more after school participation.

What to Keep in Mind

Concussions and Sports Injuries

Some popular team sports, including American football and ice hockey, commonly result in injury. Some frequently reported sports injuries include sprains, contusions, and broken limbs. Most sports injuries will result in a complete recovery if proper medical attention is received. 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 activities. 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 elite 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 health professional or a training specialist about breathing exercises and practice methods that will help you avoid developing chronic asthma.

Takeaway

thumbs up Pros
  • Sport participation has many mental health benefits including increased focus, greater ability to work with others, and a potential boost of self-confidence.

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!

thumbs down Cons
  • Injury is possible, including brain damage and exercised-induced asthma.

Speak to a medical professional 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.