Sports as a Stress Reliever

sportsEveryone has heard about the dangers of stress. In addition to being a contributing cause to life-threatening illness, it can interfere with concentration, problem-solving, and even sleep. Finding effective ways to combat stress is a key element to health in the 21st century. While some people chose relaxation through massage, yoga, or mediation as a way to decrease stress, others head out to engage in their favorite sport. Enough studies have linked the positive effects of sports on stress that more and more doctors treating stress-related illness are recommending regular physical activity for their patients.

Physical Benefits

Sports produce measurable changes in body chemistry and physiology.  Most people have heard of runner’s high, which happens when the body releases endorphins during strenuous activity.  These chemicals elevate the mood, which significantly reduces stress for at least 90 minutes to two hours after the activity ends.  Best of all, the effect is not limited to running, as most people participating in sports report similar feelings of euphoria after a game, match, or race.

Other physical changes occur after exercise, training, or participating in sports.  These include reduced electrical activity in tense muscles, relaxed blood vessels, lower blood pressure and lower heart rates. In short, following a game or race, athletes have reduced stress and tension in their bodies.

Mental Benefits

By focusing concentration on sports, individuals stop thinking about the situations and circumstances that cause worry, anxiety and stress. Sports usually require removing oneself from daily environments, whether to a pool, basketball court, or natural setting. That removal also aids in achieving distance from the various stressors in life.  Outdoor and extreme sports are especially helpful in this regard as participants are out in the natural world and/or placed in death-defying situations.

Some sports offer a cathartic aspect that also reduces stress.  Therapists sometime recommend that patients release stress and anger during a game by imagining the source of their problems as the ball they are hitting or throwing. Impact sports such as football, boxing, hockey are good for this as well.

Playing sports can lead to other good behaviors that can improve health and overall well-being.  For example, the self-confidence that comes from good performance on the basketball court can lead to higher self-esteem and better decision making in other parts of life. Better sleep routines, healthier nutritional choices and avoidance of sedentary activities can also follow.

photo by: Ernst Vikne

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