High school sports can offer a brain boost

High school sports can offer a brain boost

Participating in organized sports teams can not only create priceless memories for kids but also can improve their mental health in high school and for years beyond, a recent study found.

A group of Canadian high school students were surveyed about how often they experienced depressive symptoms, the amount of stress in their lives and how they rated their mental health every year from grades 8-12 and then three years after graduation. Researchers found that those involved in sports had better scores on all three health assessments compared to those who were not involved in sports and sports were linked to lower depression symptoms, lower perceived stress and higher self-rated mental health in young adulthood.

“It is important that school administrators recognize the importance of sport participation and physical activity,” said Dr. Catherine Sabiston, the study’s lead author, in a statement. “The associations we have found show a long term impact. School sport from ages 12 to 17 protects those youth from poor mental health four years later.”

In fact, researchers concluded that policies to increase school sport participation may be effective as a part of public health strategies to promote mental health.

According to Sarah Katula, an advanced practice nurse in psychiatry at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, Ill., there are many rewards for adolescents who are involved in sports. These include:

  • Learning to be a team player
  • Learning the rules of sportsmanship
  • Learning what it takes to maintain a healthy body and maintain a healthy weight
  • Learning to manage stress and develop healthy coping skills
  • Having an adult mentor not just for sports but for life

“Keeping adolescents active and engaged in something they are passionate about, where they have the opportunity to be with adult mentors and kept from being idle is important when navigating the rocky waters of adolescence,” Katula says. “When kids belong to anything that is organized and healthy, they do better emotionally.”

While sports offer numerous benefits for kids both mentally and physically, Katula cautions parents and coaches to watch out for unhealthy behaviors. Sometimes, dropping weight can become obsessive and unhealthy for wrestlers. Cheerleaders and gymnasts also can become preoccupied with being thin.

Although some unhealthy habits may develop while participating in sports, the mental and physical health benefits of high school sports last beyond the last game and into adulthood.

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  1. I agree with everything said as long as the sports don’t go too overboard as they seem to do nowadays!

  2. I think any school extra curricular activity can have it’s good and bad be it sports, drama or chess club. The extra curricular school activities do seem to help many of these students organize and prioritize themselves for the most part. However, there a lot more positives than negatives concerning sports.

    I would think that if a major university has 2 potential candidates that both have identical GPA’s, SAT, ACT, National Merit, Community service, would and should consider the person on a sports team over someone on the debate or chess team. The debate and chess team are fantastic but an athlete with good scores is a lot more rounded. That of course is just my opinion.

    • What you have to remember here is that the point of sports in school should really be less about winning competitions and a whole LOT more about getting kids moving so that their brains work better (because exercise will do that) and their bodies are fitter and healthier, **not** so that the coaches or alumni can brag about the teams or the teams can bring the school more notoriety. You have to choose the welfare of the majority fo the students over winning state and local sports competitions if you really want this to work — and I don’t see a lot of school districts being willing to do this. Simple calisthenics, aerobics, etc., are obviously out because there’s no team-buillding and cooperation involved there. It also means you probably have to favor team sports over individual sports and dismiss those in which there isn’t much aerobic body movement, like skeet shooting and archery.

      And you actually have to really TEACH the sports, not simply ‘demonstrate’ once or twice after explaining the rules, then leave the kids to their own devices — which is pretty much how basketball and volleyball were taught to girls at my old high school: we didn’t even know how to dribble the ball properly, let alone make free throws or jump shots correctly, which is why only the girls who learned basketball at the Y were any good and the rest of us hated being in gym class. Don’t even get me started about how nonexistent any instruction was for volleyball or tennis. Those gym classes were completely useless and certianly didn’t encourage anyone to give those sports a real try. Just as schools are actually cutting back on extracurricular activities and dumping their arts and music courses, do you really think they’re going to undertake massive team sports activities that put the entire school into teams, all with competent instructors?? I don’t see that happening, except maybe in really rich suburbs, where it probably happens anyway.

      ALL students need exercise because all will benefit from it, but it has to be exercise that they feel encouraged to join in — and most students quite simply will never make the ‘A’ team in any sport because only a few ever can, which discourages many of them from even trying out for a sport they know they probably won’t be very good at (please, no insulting remarks about the overwhelmingly hated dodgeball — I can’t think of anything I hated more in school than that.)

      What does this mean? For one thing, you have to offer students a lot more options on the kinds of team sports they can try, so that there is more possibility that they’ll be willing to participate. Second, you have to offer at least a few sports that are offered just for fun, NOT for competition, so that nobody feels left out (wasn’t that the idea behind offering soccer in school — the idea that anyone could learn to play it?). That’s just not happening in most public school districts, and certainly not in many parochial schools, either. The money’s not there to put everyone on some kind of sports team, all with competent coaches. So how are most kids to benefit from team sports, in that case, when only a few can qualify??? Fat chance! You want to do this, it’s going to take money and commitment form school authorities.

    • BTW, that athlete with good scores is a lot less prevalent than that chess player or debater — either of whom is probably more likely to end up in grad school with an advanced degree. So NO, I **don’t** agree that, grades and test scores being equal, the athlete should be chosen over the debate team captain or the chess club kid. Those geeks end up being the scientists and engineers we need more of in this country. They’re the real innovators — not the NFL and NBA stars. Besides, how many of those athletes get tutors, extra help, or ‘grade adjustments’ so that they can stay on the varsity team? The geeks don’t get that kind of a pass: they actuually have to earn their grades, especially in college. Now, if you want high schools and middle schools to create a lot more sports teams that get the geeks and the average kids moving, I’m listening … but I don’t see that happening. And that’s the point.

  3. Ann Adlington

    All of my kids play high school sports. I think it keeps them occupied with something positive. My two oldest have graduated and when we talk about choices related to drugs and alcohol, both have stated that they need to keep their bodies in prime physicial condition for their sport and wouldn’t go near it. It kept them busy and did not leave enough time to get into trouble. I’m sure our parenting also contributed but I am proud of them. One of my son’s was able to obtain an awesome athletic scholarship and will be able to go away to school for minimal cost, a win win situation.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.