For some, it’s a great outlet, and for others it can bring back memories of cold afternoons and lost property boxes, but sport and exercise has a number of hidden benefits besides the physical dividends.
Exercise and mental well-being have been linked for decades, but only recently has the health and fitness industry really exploded. While we are bombarded with images of toned, tanned athletes in the media and advertising, sport and exercise can provide much more meaning than skin-deep appearance. In this piece, ManStress highlights some benefits of being involved in sport that sometimes fly under the radar.
Having an Outlet
Sport and exercise may be one of the healthiest ways to let go of stress, both physically and mentally. As animals, we require movement and changes in scenery to stay at our best emotionally. Imagine an animal in a small cage or pen, allowed to move occasionally but otherwise caught in mundanity – sport and exercise can often be our way out of our own mental and physical cages or those created by routine or hectic schedules.
Pushing our bodies and minds to their limits, or keeping them in a sustained state of stretch, is completely natural to us, and very positive for our mental health. The endorphins released after exercise make us more relaxed and happier, and can often create a positive feedback loop that keeps people going to the gym, running in the cold, or climbing snowy mountains. Aside from sport, I have no reason to sprint or jump or grab the way I do, but if I didn’t have that outlet I would soon feel the impact on my mental health.
Social in Sport
Human relationships and interaction may be one of the most important factors relating to mental health. From personal experience, being involved in sport and exercise can completely change the wealth of people we have in our lives. Some people we are forced to spend time with; colleagues, family (be that a good thing or bad, depending on the day), etc, but being part of a community that sweats together and wins together is unlike most of what we access in our often office-based lives.
I’m in my mid-twenties, and don’t speak to anyone from school. I speak to a couple of people from college, and one or two from my degree. I see my current team of about twenty once every week or two, and have unique relationships with all of them. I see my university teammates every few months and have attended their stag do’s, weddings, congratulated them on starting families, helped them through tough times, etc. I have been able to do all of that just because I practiced putting a ball in a hoop when I was 15.
Teamwork, Leadership, Confidence
Typical corporate buzzwords they may be, but these traits and skills can really impact how we feel about ourselves when channelled inwards rather than outwards. Having to call out information about an opponent’s position, or shouting to the other end of play to relay a message makes speaking up in a meeting or confidently instructing a new member of staff less of a big deal.
Orwell said that ‘sport is war minus the shooting,’ and although he may have meant this in a derisory way, that camaraderie built up by sharing struggles as a group comes from sport too, particularly when competing. In a Cup Final recently that went to overtime, I looked around at my teammates and knew that I had to count on them, and them on me. I doubt I’ll ever be directly involved in war, but moments like that may be the closest I come, and when we won that (largely meaningless, in reality) trophy, we were all awash with pride and feelings of accomplishment that you just don’t access by meeting imposed KPIs. Moments like that mean that the common pressures of work affect me less than they would have without that experience in sport.
Breaking Habits – Forming Routine
Wake up, go to work, go home, eat, watch TV, go to sleep. This is a fairly normal routine for many people, and in many cases it’s all that we have time for on a regular basis. However, for those needing a bit of a change in the routine, or for those who need to build some sort of routine (for example, freelancers), working exercise and sport into the timetable can be very beneficial. Having allotted time for your to spend time with your body, working on a common goal rather than treating the body and its connection to mental health as an afterthought, really does something for the psyche. A few people spring to mind that have made significant strides in their mental health, even when get up there in years, after embracing exercise and sport into their routine.
Forget the Lost Property Box
Admittedly, some people resign themselves to the belief that they don’t like exercise. For some, the gym conjures negativity, running gives rise to sore knees, and the idea of a spin class causes dizziness. However, having an outlet, getting out and meeting people, learning more about your body and potentially winning yourself the odd little trophy here and there might make you reconsider when you think “sport isn’t for me.”
There’s a sport for everyone, so why not go out and find it?