Health is wealth. We’ve heard this phrase several times, but not all of us truly know what it means. A healthy mind, body, and spirit (the ethereal component of life) are considered crucial foundations for a fulfilling life.
Though as it happens, many of us forget to take care of ourselves, even if it only needs a few moments to do so. One of the best and easiest ways to become and stay healthy is through exercise. Participating in sports has many benefits, some easier to recognize than others.
The body and mind are intimately connected. Changes in one (whether positive or negative) significantly influence the other. It may not always be easy to change your mental state thanks to the challenges we face in daily life, but thankfully, the body is much more flexible -even if not literally. Some of the mental benefits of sports and exercise include:
Benefit #1: Reduced Stress
If you talk to an avid jogger, the words ‘runner’s high’ may come up. This doesn’t mean they took a break to enjoy a cocktail during their jog but instead refers to the euphoria they may get while exercising. As the body goes through any prolonged period of exertion, hormones called endorphins are released through natural and hard-wired processes.
The effect of endorphins is a feel-good sensation, the brain’s way of encouraging the body to continue working. Endorphins also work against another hormone: cortisol, the stress hormone released when one experiences stress (especially mental). The stress-reducing effect, in turn, brightens perspective, improving overall mental health.
Benefit #2: Boost in Confidence
Confidence is a significant component of positive mental health, affecting how we see and interact with the world. We are all built differently, and everyone subtly understands the limits we can physically push ourselves to.
Completing any kind of sporting activity -whether five push-ups or fifty laps in a swimming pool- brings with it a sense of accomplishment. That, in turn, gives us a reason for us to be proud of ourselves. The positive effect spreads into what we do and how we do it and is often noticed and welcomed by those around us.
Benefit #3: Weight Management
Put away those diet pills and stop treating diet foods as religious texts. Sporting activity is the only surefire way of managing your weight. Humans come in all shapes and sizes, and how much one weighs closely follows suit.
Factors such as genetics and what one eats play a significant role in how much someone weighs, but doctors agree that there is a healthy body weight for every type of body regardless of these factors. That is why the BMI (Body-Mass Index) was created and implemented.
Effects of different kinds of exercises have been researched, revealing that you can both lose and gain weight depending on the type of exercise you do. In most cases, weight is gained by increasing muscle mass while lost by breaking down fats. If you love your body, it improves your mood and makes you feel more attractive.
Benefit #4: Instilling a Sense of Self-Discipline
Proper exercise often requires following some sort of schedule or structure, from timing (three times a week) to a degree (workouts in a set). Sticking to these can be difficult, especially when other demands for your time come up, but it can be highly gratifying once you find a rhythm.
Choosing to dedicate your time to sports activities means focusing on it and putting everything else aside. Self-discipline goes hand in hand with self-respect, a positive trait for a healthy mind. In turn, this mental state extends into what you do, creating a drive to focus on it.
Benefit #5: Better Quality Sleep
Sports and exercise wear out the muscles, causing fatigue. The body repairs itself most efficiently while sleeping. It’s, therefore, not hard to see that regular exercise helps create healthy sleeping patterns and better quality sleep.
When you wake up, you’ll find you have more energy (or at least feel like it) and a more positive state of mind, thanks to the endorphins. When tired, you fall asleep faster and into a deeper sleep as well.
Benefit #6: Developing Social Bonds
Participating in team sports is a great way to meet new people and enjoy a mutual interest in activities. Team sports direct all team members toward a shared goal everyone works to achieve.
During the game, you get to learn more about the people you play with and can identify who has the character traits you’d want in a friend. Win or lose; the feelings are shared in the group, deepening social bonds, granting a sense of belonging, and improving empathy.
Working out with others in the gym or at recreational swimming pools can yield the same mental health benefits even outside of team sports. For the youth, team sports are especially encouraged. They have relatively more free time, and being part of a sports team will help them hone their skills, meet peers with similar interests, and develop discipline while enriching their minds and bodies.
Benefit #7: A Healthy Emotional Outlet
There are several ways to cope with the trials of life, some healthier than others. Resorting to alcohol or drugs is an unwise option because they damage your body and can be addictive. Unfortunately, many people go down this road. On the other hand, exercise is a very healthy way to deal with negativity, thanks to all its positive effects on the body.
Instead of taking out work frustrations on a stranger in a bar, take up a boxing class and vent on a dummy. Dummies don’t hit back. Shouting and screaming are common in sports, even encouraged in some, making it an excellent platform for expressing yourself and blowing off steam.
Sports and exercise have been recognized worldwide and throughout history for their essential part in well-being. The Olympics and World Cup, the largest global events, are a testament to their positive influence. You don’t have to be a star athlete or have weights and top-notch sporting equipment to get and stay healthy. Just the will to make that choice will begin a journey of positive transformation for both mind and body.
Though the benefits of sports and exercise are numerous, they don’t always come easy. It takes time to see results both mentally and physically. However, if you stick with it – whether that means playing a sport yourself or cheering from the sidelines – you will eventually begin to reap the mental rewards of an active lifestyle. And trust me, those benefits are worth the effort!