You may have surrendered your childhood dream of winning Wimbledon or hitting an Ashes ton on Boxing Day, but there are numerous physical, mental and emotional benefits to playing sport on a regular basis. And you needn’t be training with a world record breaking intensity to boost your wellbeing in varied and possibly surprising ways.
Perhaps the most obvious benefits of sport are to our physical wellbeing. US medical researchers, the Mayo Clinic recommend 30 daily minutes of moderate physical activity to lower heart attack risk. The process of partaking in moderate levels of exercise, allows your heart to pump more blood, reducing blood pressure and promoting better circulation. Playing sport helps maintain muscle mass and bone density which naturally decrease as we get older, critical to fighting osteoporosis. More vigorous exercise can promote weight loss, which in turn makes it easier to partake in further sporting activity, when we have less mass to drag around the court, pool or track.
Often when we think of the physical benefits to exercising regularly, we focus on the body beautiful, whether muscle-bound or more aerobic looking. Perhaps lesser known are the brain boosting benefits of being sporty. When we engage in physical activity, various neurotransmitters (or brain chemicals) are released that help relieve pain and stress and regulate our mood. Regular exercise can increase our brain’s serotonin levels, a chemical usually very low in those who are depressed, which improves our mood, appetite and sleep cycles. Physical activity also promotes a brain chemical called norepinephrine which makes us more alert and improves our attention and concentration throughout the day. Sport can enhance feelings of motivation and reward, whilst calming fear and anxiety through dopamine and endorphins and our risk of developing dementia can be reduced by maintaining good blood flow to the brain and encouraging the growth of new brain cells.
In some respects, the benefits of playing sport at an older age are no different to doing so as a child. Most sports are inherently social activities, providing opportunities to train, try, play, win, and lose with our peers. Team sports bond people to one another, creating social networks, and an excuse to enjoy a laugh and a drink together after the running or sweating is done and dusted. All of that social activity has a further positive impact on our emotional wellbeing, self-confidence and esteem.