Sport and Mental Health
The fact that sport is good for aerobic capacity, muscle strength and quality of life is not lost on anyone. However, many are unaware that there is a huge body of evidence which shows that sport can improve the mental health of participants. With as little as five 30-minute sessions a week, you too can enjoy a natural boost that could prove crucial to your mental health.
Enhanced Memory and Cognitive Skills
Many smokers and caffeine drinkers swear by the focus and concentration levels provided by cigarette, coffee and tea. However, endorphins released by the brain during sporting activities, which triggers a sense of well-being and contentedness, also improve memory retention, recall and cognitive abilities – at far greater magnitudes. The expanded mental ability also provides a buffer against the degeneration of the hippocampus during old age, and delays the effect of degenerative ailments like Alzheimer.
Anxiety and Depression
Multiple studies in healthy and clinical populations (including patients suffering from emotional disorders) have demonstrated that sport directly impacts the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HTPA axis) of the brain. This triggers physiological reactions that dampens anxiety, depression and negative mood while elevating concentration (primarily due to an increase in perceived energy levels) and sense of self-efficacy. If you are suffering from either ailment, keep sport and the HTPA axis on the back of your mind. However, speak to your doctor before making any changes to your lifestyle.
Self-Esteem and Social Withdrawal
Correlations have been observed between sport and exercise and improvements in self-esteem and social withdrawal. Researchers and psychologists believe that a combination of factors, which includes elevated cognitive functions, reduced blood pressure levels, increased in confidence and improved self-efficacy, is responsible for this. At times, changes can be detected after just a single session!
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) and Other Mental Trauma
High intensity sports such as cross-country skiing, mountain biking, white-water rafting and sailing were recently used by researchers to treat American military veterans at a Veterans Affairs hospital who were suffering from PTSD. Although sports-oriented occupational therapy has been an informal part of PTSD treatment for a couple of decades, this is the first time its effects have been monitored in a clinical setting. The result demonstrated “clinically meaningful improvement” among patients. As a bonus, the therapy also decreased depressive symptoms in patients. The result echoes the experience of Canadian army vet Master Corporal Adam Cyr, who used archery and rowing to successfully treat his PTSD. He would go on to represent his country at the 2016 Invictus Games.