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Most of the time when we speak of sports, we talk about the physical benefits that being regularly active provides.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these benefits include reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Consistent exercise also strengthens your muscles and bones while making it easier to maintain a healthier weight.
However, participating in sports isn’t just about what it does for your body. Research has also proven time and time again that engaging in these types of activities provides some amazing mental health benefits too.
Sports and mood
The National Institute of Mental Health shares that approximately one in four Americans will, at some point in their lives, experience a mood-related disorder. Additionally, disorders of this type are highest for those in the 18 to 29-year-old range (12.9 percent), with 30 to 44-year-olds being second highest (11.9 percent). Females are also more at risk for developing a mood issue, with 11.6 percent reporting a disorder compared to 7.7 percent of males.
Fortunately, many studies have found that sports can help with these disorders, especially for specific populations. For instance, one study published in the Therapeutic Recreation Journal involved Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans who had acquired some type of mental and/or physical disability during combat.
In this case, 18 participants were assessed based on three questionnaires. Next, they played adaptive sports for a five-day period, completing another questionnaire after the treatment ended.
Upon review of the results, researchers found “a significant reduction in total mood disturbance after participation in the adaptive sport program.” In fact, the mood disturbance decreased by almost half, dropping from a score of 60.42 to 33.74.
Sports for depression and anxiety
Sports have also been found to help individuals with issues related to depression and anxiety. This is important as the Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that anxiety afflicts roughly 40 million Americans over the age of 18 and major depressive disorder is a concern for 16.1 million.
One particular study published in CNS & Neurological Disorders – Drug Targets looked at 37 different meta-analyses covering exercise and its effects on depression and anxiety. They found “large” positive effects on the former and moderate positive effects for the latter, providing evidence that regular physical activity provided by sports can help these two all-too-common issues.
Physical activity and focus
Have you ever tried to work on something only to realize that you don’t have the focus you need to complete the task as quickly or as efficiently as you’d like? The regular physical activity offered via playing in sports can potentially help with this by improving concentration and focus. In fact, one meta-analysis of 79 studies found that these positive effects not only occur during the activity itself, but long afterward as well.
Harvard Medical School indicates that this boost in brain power is a result of the way exercise impacts the chemicals in the brain that either directly or indirectly make it more difficult to focus. Enhanced concentration abilities are also believed possible thanks to exercise’s positive impact on mood, depression, and anxiety—three additional factors that can decrease focus.
Improved self-confidence and self-esteem
Sports Psychology Today explains that athletes achieve higher levels of self-confidence when playing sports in three different ways. The first is via practice, the second occurs due to “what other people say or do,” and the third is from successful past performances.
The University of Minnesota Duluth adds that this boost in self-confidence provides many benefits ranging from feeling more positive to an increase in effort to the way they view the game. Furthermore, these benefits are often achieved via activities such as positive self-talk, developing successful experiences, and better controlling the mind.
One Swiss study published in Health Education Research looked at this very issue. It involved 10,000 in-school kids between the ages of 15 and 20. Each one was assessed on self-image, as well as other issues such as perceptions of health, substance use, and other behaviors. After studying the data, researchers found that athletic teens had better body images than teens who were non-athletic. They also engaged in fewer riskier behaviors.
All in all, participating in sports has been found to be just as good for the mind as it is for the body. Encouraging your patients to participate (as well as participating yourself) only boosts the benefits you offer as a sports DC. Now the only thing left to do is to find the right sport for you, which is a whole new subject completely.