Countless studies have shown that sports and physical activity has a huge benefit on our health and wellbeing, but the advantages it offers for our mental health can’t be overstated either.
We often neglect to think about our mental health when choosing a sport to take part in, yet it so often influences our decisions when we’re thinking about physical fitness – you may choose a certain activity for its cardio benefits, for example, or for toning and strengthening specific muscle groups. With that in mind, this list examines the physical activities you can choose that will have the biggest impact on your mental health.
How does sport positively impact our mental health?
Sport benefits our mental health in several ways, starting by triggering chemicals in the brain that make us feel more relaxed and happier. In particular, when we engage in team sports, we have the added benefit of connecting with others. Sports can reduce stress and give the mind a welcome distraction from negative thoughts and daily stressors, while also improving concentration. With continued effort and consistency, exercise can also improve our sleep habits and the quality of our sleep, which can in itself have a positive effect on mental health.
Starting gently, yoga may not be immediately thought of as a sport, but it is a physical activity that requires strength, discipline and commitment, just like any other sporting hobby. Depending on the type of yoga you take part in, it can be surprisingly physically challenging and requires agility and flexibility to perform the different poses and flows. But one of the main reasons that yoga is such a popular activity is its mental benefits.
Yoga is renowned for being calming and soothing, whether you practice alone or as a group, focus on the positions or the breathing techniques and meditation. The positive effect that yoga can have on your mental wellbeing is extraordinary, so much so that it is even used in addiction treatment.
“Yoga challenges negative thinking with positive thinking. The mindset shift is important for people who may be healing”, says Olivia Marcellino, VP of Research at LuxuryRehabs.com, “often in addictions, negative views of oneself and the world can hinder the person to see the beauty in themselves and all around them. Yoga centers and grounds you to reflect and see the good in oneself”.
Pounding the racetracks, local parks or sidewalks as a way of improving mindset is a method used by an increasing number of people. And for good reason – that ‘runner’s high’ isn’t a myth. Running causes a release of endorphins that not only bring stress levels down but also make us happier. Running is an exhilarating activity and once you get into the habit of running regularly, you’ll start to look forward to the shift in your mood that you experience.
The advantages of running on our mental health aren’t just experienced during the run itself. They last long after you get back home too. Studies suggest that regular cardiovascular activities can increase the production of new blood vessels which nourishes the brain, as well as new brain cells that improve performance and prevent cognitive decline.
Reducing stress helps to have an anti-depressive effect and elevates the mood, as well as adding structure to your weekly routine which can be really helpful for people struggling with their mental health. And when it comes to events and activities such as marathons and organized runs, the process of training can provide additional focus and confidence.
Swimming is a popular activity for the all-over workout it provides, and the fact that it combines cardiovascular activity with muscle toning and strengthening. But it has the potential to significantly reduce anxiety and depression symptoms too. Millions of people around the world have mental health issues, and swimming is an accessible activity that can be highly effective in calming the mind and providing individuals with a new focus.
Swimming is an activity you can do alone or with other people, and it’s also a sport that can be as physically taxing or as gentle as you want it to be, making it suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels. Counting laps can keep your mind focused and helps you to let go of work stress and personal struggles that can weigh heavy on the mind, as well as being a soothing and relaxing activity when you don’t have the strength for a high-intensity workout.
When it comes to exercising, going solo isn’t always the best option – particularly when it comes to our mental health. In fact, some studies have shown that it could benefit you more to work out with other people than independently if your goal is to improve your mental health due to the positive impact it can have through socializing and feeling supported by others. From football and hockey to basketball and even tennis, the process of spending time with others when combined with the benefits exercise can already offer can be extremely effective in reducing stress and boosting your mood.
When you take part in team sports, in whatever form that may take, you’re enjoying the activity with like-minded people. It encourages healthy competition and adds an element of fun to your workouts, which can help to bolster your confidence and increase happiness. It’s a way of developing supportive relationships and adding structure to your week, since working out with other people helps to encourage you to stick with your routine when you might ditch the workout if it’s just yourself.
While poor mental health can impact our motivation to work out, research suggests that pushing ourselves to take part in these types of physical activities can actually help us when it comes to improving mental health, reducing stress and depression, and helping with associated factors that can affect our mindsets such as sleep and body confidence.
Whether you take up swimming, go for an early morning jog or join a local sports team, there are various ways to improve your mental health with exercise, and these choices, in particular, have been proven to have a positive effect.