Consider social exercise to improve mental health

Mental health issues are increasing on a global scale, especially in teenagers. It is estimated 25 percent of teens experience anxiety and at least 20 percent experience depression before adulthood. In response, researchers are focusing on finding activities and lifestyles to promote mental health. From their research, they have discovered those who participate in team sports or social exercise have lower anxiety levels and experience less depression than those who participate in individual sports or no sports at all.

Why are team sports effective?

It is well-known that exercise is beneficial for mental and physical wellness, but why are team sports more helpful for reducing mental health issues than other forms of exercise?

The following factors contribute to the positive state of mental health found in team sports participants:

  • Socialization
  • Social status
  • Social support and accountability

These social elements found in team sports are beneficial for combating symptoms of depression. For instance, social isolation is a common symptom of depression eliminated through the social elements ingrained in team sports.

Team sports or social exercise?

When most people think of team sports, they usually think of sports like football, basketball, baseball or soccer. However, these sports are not suited for everyone seeking social exercise.  Here are some examples of exercise activities that can be engaged in socially:

  • Running or cycling
  • Hiking
  • Group fitness classes (i.e. yoga, martial arts, kickboxing, cycling, etc.)

Countless activities and forms of exercise can be engaged in socially. Essentially, if an exercise activity includes the fundamental social elements of team sports, it will provide similar benefits to mental health.

What if I play individual sports?

If you are an individual sport athlete, don't sweat it. Any form of exercise has mental health benefits, although may not be as extensive as social exercises. Nevertheless, if you are interested in obtaining the mental health benefits associated with social exercise, consider finding a balance between individual and social exercise.

Positive self-talk

Research has shown that positive self-talk can improve mental health, as well as performance in sports. This is because positive-self talk decreases performance anxiety and increases an athlete's confidence in their abilities. Although – whether you play sports or not – positive self-talk is a great practice to consider due to its mental health benefits. To develop a habit of practicing positive self-talk, take the following steps:

  • Choose a positive affirmation or motivational phrase to repeat, such as “You got this” or “I can do this.”
  • Once repeating this phrase becomes a habit, create more phrases that apply to specific areas of life.
  • Once you’ve created multiple phrases, attach positive mental images to them for effective visualization.

Something to consider

Keep in mind that athletes experience mental health issues too, regardless of the sports they play. Additionally, exercise alone is not sufficient treatment for serious mental disorders. In that regard, people struggling with their mental health should seek professional help.

Finding ways to cope with mental health issues can be challenging. If you or a loved one has a mental health concern, we are happy to consult with you at Community Reach Center. To get more information about our metro Denver mental health centers visit communityreachcenter.org or call 303-853-3500. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City, Broomfield and Brighton.

This blog was contributed by Brice Pernicka, a Westgate Community School student who is also an intern at Community Reach Center.