Sports Can Help You in More Ways Than You Know
The fact that physical activity is highly important for good physical health is an undeniable one. Now however, there is more and more evidence of the fact that physical activity; particularly sporting pursuits are good not only for the body but also for the mind; for a number of reasons:
Fitter, healthier body
The most obvious advantage of playing sport is enhanced physical health and lower risk of several diseases such as diabetes, cholesterol, hypertension and related problems. Improved blood circulation and stronger bones coupled with lower risk of breakage and diseases such as osteoporosis are other benefits. The fact that regular physical activity improves heart health and lowers heart attack risk as well as stroke risk is also well established. Those who play vigorous sports regularly are leaner, fitter and much less likely to be overweight or obese than those who have a sedentary lifestyle; this goes without saying.
It is also a fact that regular physical activity helps a person sleep better; a significant indicator of good health. Not only is it easier to fall asleep it also becomes easier to remain asleep and to get quality restful sleep each night.
Another beneficial impact of playing sport is improved immunity and protection against infections and diseases: improved circulation means effective circulation of white blood cells and improved ability to flush bacteria out of lungs and airways. Exercise stimulates production of antibodies and helps the body fight infections ranging from the common cold to more serious conditions.
Playing sports is seen to have a directly positive impact on the mood; we have all likely experienced the feeling of pleasurable tiredness, satisfaction and relaxation after playing a sport. There is also evidence to show that it can lower the production of stress hormones while increasing release of beneficial hormones such as endorphins, and protect against mental ailments such as depression. The runner’s high is a real phenomenon. It is obvious that playing a vigorous game of something can be a fun pursuit and an enjoyable leisure activity that is self-rewarding; a motivation in itself!
Since many sports require a partner or team participation, sports that are not solitary activities can have several social benefits as well. There is the sense of belonging that comes from being a part of a group such as a sports team. People who play sports as a team find that they are able to apply their sense of fair play and team spirit to other areas of their life; thereby being able to function better in other team and group activities; both professionally and socially. Sports may also help hone leadership traits in people and make them more self-confident and sure of themselves.
The benefits are particularly pronounced in kids who start to participate in sports early in life; making friends easily and becoming more socially adept. They are also more likely to remain active as they grow to adulthood as well as later in life.
More and more research now points to a link between playing sport and enhanced academic performance, probably because physical activity also enhances brain function. Adolescents who regularly engage in intensive exercise could show better scores in science, math and language. Sports that need tactical thinking and problem solving can also enhance mental agility, improve reaction times and help a person become more organized. As physical activity improves the mood it also improves memory; both aspects contributing to better academic performance.
Particular benefits of playing sport
While all physical activity is beneficial, playing sport has many specific benefits. Playing sports may be even more effective than, say, going to the gym in keeping us healthy and fit because it can involve being out of doors in the fresh air; whereas a gym’s enclosed space with artificial light and climate control may be much less so.
Playing sport has many psychological benefits in addition to those of physical activity: firstly, there is the shared communal experience of participation along with others which can be satisfying and positive. One learns to be trusting of others and learns a sense of responsibility as well. Those who participate in sport find it easier to ask for and accept help. Members of a team can enjoy working towards a common goal, enjoy the thrill of winning and also find solace in loss. It is enjoyable and fun to be part of a supportive community.
Just the experience of training for a sport, working and practicing regularly helps build discipline and a sense of purpose. The determination to make an effort and give one’s best is a valuable habit to pick up. Since it is not possible to win every time, failure also has valuable lessons to teach. It builds the kind of resilience that is valuable throughout life. Different sports may be suitable for different people. It is important to pick one that works for you and to make it your passion — the foregoing shows that it can be well worth your while!
Sashi is a certified yoga instructor with a passion for everything health and fitness.