When you think about the advantages of playing sports, your first thought is probably that sports improve your physical fitness. But research shows that participating in sports and exercise helps your mind as well as your body. Here are some of the key mental benefits of sports:

Improve Mood
Want a burst of happiness and relaxation? Involve in a 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 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.

Improve Concentration
Regular physical activity helps keep your key mental skills sharp as you age, including thinking, learning, and using good judgment. Research has shown that 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 these mental health benefits.

Reduce Stress and Depression
When you are physically active, your mind is distracted from daily stressors, freeing you to think more creatively and avoid getting bogged down in negative thought patterns. 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 keep stress and depression at bay. Endorphins may even leave you feeling more relaxed and optimistic after a hard workout on the sports field.

Improve Sleep
Sports and other forms of physical activity improve the quality of your sleep, helping you to fall asleep faster and 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 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.

When considered in tandem with the physical benefits of sports and exercise, the mental benefits are hard to ignore. What else can help you feel better and have more energy while also promoting fitness and longevity? That's the power of exercise.