The sense of community that comes from being involved in a sporting team could boost your mental health as much as the physical exercise.
We know the many health benefits that come with increasing our physical activity, but there’s another reason to get off the couch and pull on our joggers.
Robert Newton is foundation professor of exercise and sports science at Edith Cowan University. He says being part of a sporting community can boost your mental health, and help with problems from depression to bullying.
“Sporting facilities really serve as a focus point for the community,” Professor Newton says. “Getting engaged in physical activity has a whole bunch of health benefits that we are all aware of, but there are psychological health aspects to it as well.
“Most of the research has been done around football, or soccer as it’s called in Australia, but involvement in any sport reduces community problems around juvenile delinquency quite markedly. Drug and alcohol use is also reduced.
“There is some very strong research from Edith Cowan University showing that involvement in sports reduces a kid’s tendency to bully other kids, and if you’re involved in sport you are much less likely to be bullied yourself. So given the problem that bullying is, this is a very good outcome.”
Sports psychologist Elizabeth Tindle agrees. Dr Tindle has been an athlete, coach, teacher and counsellor, and says the opportunity for human interaction is an important part of being involved in sport.
“We’re talking about human involvement and happiness, and this comes from involvement in some sort of team or group, from feeling a sense of belonging to something.
“It could be a sports team, it could be other things, but I think sport plays a big role I think in our lives for health, including mental health.”
If involvement in a community such as a sporting group can improve our mental health, Professor Newton says the reverse can also be true – that people who aren’t a part of such a network can be more prone to the problems that come with isolation.
“The isolation that a lot of people feel, in which they are not getting out and meeting interacting with people, that drives some of the most serious diseases in our community, particularly around depression.
“We know that getting involved in physical activity has a physiological benefit in terms of reducing depression, but also being involved in the community and feeling that support around you, that really helps to overcome the issues of anxiety and depression.”
Dr Tindle says our society’s increasingly sedentary lifestyles can affect our mental health as well as our waistlines.
“I think we have to counteract the sitting phenomenon – we have a lot of people who spend a lot of time sitting in front of screens. It’s a tyranny of screens.
“That is not a very healthy existence. Being on your own, sitting down for long periods, is not good for health, including mental health.”
As first appeared in ABC Local