Teen sports can have an immensely positive impact on teen well-being. Not only do sports reduce stress levels, they also give teens ways to bond and practice collaboration, while reaping the physical and mental health benefits of exercising. Teen sports have been shown to boost self-esteem, build teamwork skills and help young people build a close community of peers and supportive adults.
10 Scientifically Validated Mental Benefits of Sports
For over 100 years, scientists have been exploring the link between exercise and mood. As a result, there is a extensive body of research supporting the connection between increased physical activity and improved mental health.
Here are 10 mental benefits of sports validated by scientific research:
- Exercise positively impacts levels of serotonin, a chemical that helps regulate mental health, and stimulates the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which improves mood
- Physical activity releases endorphins, the body’s natural “happy chemicals” and reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol
- Sports are associated with lower rates of stress, anxiety, depression and suicidal behavior
- Participation in team sports reduces the risk of teen substance abuse and other reckless behaviors
- Team sports enhance resilience, empathy, confidence and empowerment
- They have also been shown to increase executive functioning, creativity, cognitive development and self-regulation
- Improved teamwork and social responsibility
- Better well-being for teens with disabilities
- Teen sports, as well as other outdoor activities, get teens outside so they can experience the benefits of time in nature
- Sleep improves when teens are physically active—which is important because sleep is essential for maintaining mental health
To Ward Off Anxiety, Get Moving
In addition to protecting teens from depression, physical exercise such as team sports has been shown to decrease symptoms of anxiety. In a study of college students, those who were physically active reported higher levels of excitement and enthusiasm as compared to those who were less active. In another study, researchers found that people who got regular vigorous exercise were 25 percent less likely to develop an anxiety disorder over the next five years.
Long-Term Mental Benefits of Sports
In addition to the immediate mental benefits of sports, playing team sports in high school appears to predict better mental health later in life. A 2019 study tested this theory on close to 10,000 participants, about half of whom experienced childhood trauma. They found that individuals with a history of trauma had a significantly lower chance of being diagnosed with depression or anxiety if they had participated in team sports as adolescents.
Another study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, found that students who play team sports in grades 8 through 12 have less stress and better mental health as young adults. In the study, 850 students from 10 Canadian schools were surveyed about their participation in school sports, such as basketball, soccer, track and field, wrestling and gymnastics.
Three years after graduation, researchers followed up with the participants. They found that youth who were involved in school sports had lower depression symptoms, lower perceived stress and better self-rated mental health than those who did not play sports at all. The study authors concluded that playing high school sports protected young people from poor mental health four years later.
According to study co-author Catherine Sabiston, PhD, of the University of Toronto, “Team sports offer a heightened emphasis on group goals, social support and sense of connection that provide more opportunity for learning adaptive coping strategies that can be essential for long-term mental health.”
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