The many benefits of a sporting life

The many benefits of a sporting life

Taking part in regular sports or physical activity has incredible health and wellbeing benefits – and it can even extend your life for seven years or more1.

Playing sports is something that is generally linked to children and younger adults – with participation waning the older we get.

There’s a bit of truth in that, certainly for men.

Statistics from the AusPlay Survey2, a large-scale national population tracking survey funded and led by the Australian Sports Commission (ASC), show that participation in sport is highest for males in the 15-17 age group – however, for females, participation was highest in the 45-54 age group.

The most recent survey results (July 2020-June 2021) also show that Australian adults tend to play sports for a longer duration than non-sport-related physical activities – however, they participate in non-sport-related physical activities more frequently.

Of course, as we get older, there are more demands on our time – and our bodies suffer from injury and health issues. Unsurprisingly, those were the top two reasons adults gave the AusPlay survey for not participating in sports – 26.5% claiming not enough time/too many other commitments, while 24.5% cited poor health or injury.

Just over 7% said their increasing years were the reason why they didn’t participate, while a very honest 6.5% said they were simply too lazy. The remainder – 5.6% – said they simply didn’t like sport.

Taking part in sport and physical activity, however, has many benefits – so if you’ve been thinking about reigniting a sporting passion, or simply getting your body moving again, here are the positives that lie ahead.

The physical health benefits of playing sport

1. Improvement to cardiovascular health

Research has shown that exercise prevents both the onset and development of cardiovascular disease3 – helping strengthen the heart4 and lungs5. Regular physical activity can also help lower blood pressure6 and reduce the risk of heart disease7, too, by helping keep your weight under control, lowering cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure.

2. Muscles get stronger and more flexibility

Regularly participating in sports will help muscles grow and function8, which is important as healthy muscles enable you to move freely and keep your body strong. Having good flexibility is important as we get older – it helps us avoid injuries and keep our joints moving freely9.

3. Reduce the risk of chronic diseases

Regular physical activity can also help to reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer10. For example, keeping active reduces the risk of kidney cancer by 23%11.

4. It can improve balance and coordination

Playing regular sports and taking part in physical activity can also help to improve balance and coordination, which can reduce the risk of falls and injuries in older adults. For example, a study found that older adults who participated in a 12-week Tai Chi program experienced significant improvements in balance, as well as reducing their risk of falls12.

5. It can help you sleep better too

Regular physical activity, such as playing sports, can help you get a better night’s sleep and suffer less insomnia too13 – which is vitally important from a health and wellbeing perspective14.

6. And it could help you live longer

Taking part in 150 minutes of physical activity a week can give you an extra seven years of life, while higher activity levels can increase your lifespan even more – regardless of your weight, age or gender15.

The mental health benefits of playing sport

Stress and anxiety decrease

A number of studies, including one published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry16, have proven a link between playing sport and being physically active, and a reduction in stress, anxiety and depression. When we’re physically active, endorphins – our natural painkillers that create a feeling of wellbeing – are released into our body, helping us just feel better. Sport also provides an outlet for pent-up energy and emotions, and the value of that break from the everyday is hugely valuable.

Mood and self-esteem increases

Playing a sport or taking part in physical activity can also help improve your mood and self-esteem17. This is due to a number of reasons, including the accomplishment of goals, building confidence and positive feedback.

Getting social

You’ll meet new people

A wonderful thing about participating in sport and physical activity is the opportunity to meet new people. Sport is a great leveller – qualifications, ethnicity and work accomplishments matter little in a sporting environment, but what you’re doing creates immediate common ground.

Building those social connections can be incredibly valuable – it can create new friendships and reduce social isolation, which of course can positively impact physical and mental health, too!

The most popular physical activities for adults in Australia18

Recreational walking (46.5%)
Fitness/gym (37.5%)
Athletics/jogging/running (20.7%)
Swimming (17.5%)
Cycling (15%)
Bush walking (9.8%)
Yoga (6.9%)
Tennis (5.8%)
Football/soccer (5.7%)
Golf (5.7%)
Basketball (4.7%)
Pilates (4.3%)
Surfing (3.2%)
Australian Rules football (2.9%)
Netball (2.8%)

18Source: AusPlay survey, 2020-21