For many athletes, sports is a job or hobby. Being active feels like a release, an escape from your life. It begs the question, though: can sports actually help improve mental health?
Research has shown that playing a sport improves your emotional and mental well-being and can also improve many other factors in how your brain develops. It can even enhance the way you interact with other people.
Here are a few examples of how playing sports and being active can help improve your mental health.
The Proof is in the Chemistry
The most concrete example of how mental health is improved by sports can be found in simple brain chemistry. Scientists have known for years that being active releases endorphins or happy chemicals in the brain that can increase your mood. These chemicals include serotonin which regulates your mental health. Exercise also decreases the cortisol level in your brain, a chemical associated with stress. Because of this, playing sports often helps people suffering from anxiety and depression.
Empathy and Communication
When talking about mental health, we often focus solely on the individual. What can you do to improve your mood? However, you can’t have positive mental health without focusing on how you interact with others. Children and teenagers who participate in team sports have higher confidence around their peers and increased communication skills and empathy. This is because, from a young age, they are exposed to new people, develop teamwork, and have a sense of social responsibility to the people around them. Having a well-developed sense of empathy can also improve how you interact with other people well into adulthood and help you better understand life.
Staying Outside and Out of Trouble
Being a part of a sports program can give any person a sense of focus and purpose in their life, no matter their age. This keeps you out of situations that could get you into trouble, such as bad habits, uncomfortable situations, or people who will negatively impact your life. Instead, sports can help you develop friendships with similar goals and interests. Plus, it can get you outside and connected with nature, depending on your sport. Researchers have found that being in nature can improve your immune system, decrease stress, and improve your nervous system.
Adding Value to Your Life
In addition to improving your mental health, sports can instill essential values in your life that further focus your mind. Being active instills a sense of respect for yourself (your physical and mental wellbeing) and the people around you who work tirelessly to help you be the best version of yourself. It enables you to develop the discipline you need to be good at your sport and improve other areas of your life. Sports can help you develop patience as you continue training and working towards the desired goal. It can also teach you selflessness.
As a team, you realize you are part of something greater than yourself. When Simone Biles decided to quit, it wasn’t just for her mental health. She understood she was part of something bigger.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a gymnast, a soccer player, a runner, or a dancer. Being active in your sport has been proven to positively impact your mental health and your life as a whole. So, ask yourself, how has your sport improved your mental health?