by Leila Dorari: There is a common misconception among people that sports are nothing more than physical exertion with elements of competition…
From a strictly observer’s perspective, this idea makes a lot of sense. People watch football for various reasons, but in essence it is all about seeing your favorite team play a better game than the opponents. However, this common view presents a barrier for understanding the full potential sports. In actuality, each sport is a complex mental and physical activity which has the ability to change our lives in many ways. While the benefits of playing sports as a form of physical exercise has been known since the earliest times in history, their usefulness for cultivating mental well-being has only recently started getting more attention. Training your mind is just as important as training your body, and sports seem to able to accomplish both at the same time. How exactly can playing sports improve our mental health? Read the rest of this article to find out.
Happiness Through Shared Activity
Sports are never practiced in a vacuum. A lot of them require a team of people playing together, and even those that can seemingly be enjoyed alone, still require other individuals to teach you the rules, and preferably give you advice on how to develop your skills. Finally, sports are usually played in front of an audience, adding yet another social dimension to the activity. This communal aspect is one of the reasons why sports still have such a prominent place in our society. They allow us to compete, as well as support each other without introducing any ulterior motives. While the reality of sports often diverges from its idealized form, the sense of camaraderie it can foster in people on occasion is beneficial both for the individual, and the society at large.
The most direct way in which sports can benefit your mind is by way of sheer pleasure. Engaging in moderate physical activity promotes the release of chemicals called endorphins in the brain. Endorphins inhibit the transmission of pain signals within the nervous system, alleviating irritating everyday soreness and pain. The can also produce intense feelings of euphoria similar to other opioids, which is a class of substances that have morphine-like effects. This makes sports particularly effective for treating some forms of depression by mimicking the effects of antidepressant medication.
The routine of our busy daily lives often leaves us stressed at the end of each day. The chief negative effect of stress on our mental life is inducing in us the feeling that we are beset on all sides. Our attention gets dispersed over many small irritations, making it difficult to muster the will to tackle them all. This is where sports come into play. Specifically, what sports offer us is a tangible, clearly-defined challenge to overcome. It gives a valve to release all those pent-up feelings of anxiety, depression, destructiveness and boredom in a single, carefully controlled burst of activity. Martial arts and fighting sports in general provide a good example how physical exertion can produce tranquility in the mind, but even exercising with a golf training machine can reduce stress in a major way.
The great thing about sports is that they are a self-improving activity. The more you engage in them, the better you become over time. While this may seem obvious, a lot of people don’t realize the benefits this can have for psychological well-being. Namely, it is not just that you are becoming better at performing some range of physical activities, you are also becoming aware of the fact that this is the case. Playing sports makes improvement as such more visible to the mind. And insofar the mind perceives itself as the ultimate source of this improvement, it develops a sense of confidence in its ability to influence reality. In other words, by playing sports, we come to realize that we can better ourselves without relying on anything external. Needless to say, this is a huge boon for our sense of self-confidence, and it can be achieved through the simple act of kicking a ball around.
Healthy Mind in a Healthy Body
The benefits of physical fitness for mental health are often misunderstood. Far too often, people assume that you need to follow some kind of ‘fitness philosophy’ in addition to doing sports and exercise. In reality, physical activity as such produces bodily changes which lead to a healthier outlook on life. Just start playing a sport, and let your body do the rest.