How Team Sports Can Help Improve Your Mental Health
For the past three years, I had been consistently getting up before the sun rose and spending an hour of my time with the same people an average of 4-5 times a week. Prior to that, as a creature of habit, I attended the same fitness studio at relatively the same time and also taught classes there, allowing me the privilege of seeing the same people week after week — the same people who made it hard for me to make the decision to finally stop teaching there a couple years later.
After I had Miles and after I was ready to start introducing exercise again, I was lucky enough to be able to bring him with me as he sat quietly in his car seat or dozed off while I exercised. Once he reached the six month mark, he started to be less content with sitting for an hour and started being more vocal about it. I did it for as long as I could, but bringing him with me to class wasn’t going to be an option for me anymore. It was the first time since giving birth that I felt like I couldn’t continue life the way it was before I had a child.
That’s not true, of course, but it did mean that I would have to find a new normal with exercise. The first thing I did was cry. A lot. For someone who doesn’t cry a ton, it caught me off guard. I tried to figure out why I was so upset. It wasn’t that I could never exercise again. It wasn’t that people were mad at me. I realized pretty quickly what it was.
I cried because I felt like I lost a family. Again, objectively this wasn’t true, but to be with the same people day in and day out for several years and then no longer be able to continue that routine was devastating. Since then, I’ve found a new routine that works for me, but I know it won’t ever be the same as it was pre-baby. And that’s ok. I still see my friends outside the gym, when Neil stays home with Miles, and on some days when I’m still able to sneak him in during a class. 🙂
In recent years, more research has been done on the impact of team sports on mental health. It’s not (or shouldn’t be) a surprise that physical activity helps alleviate some symptoms of anxiety and depression (but is not a cure-all). That being said, research shows that team sports may have a slight edge in their effect on mental health, a 2018 study in The Lancet found. To take that even further, another study found that team sport athletes may be less likely to suffer anxiety or depression than individual sport athletes.
I’m not a huge team sports person. I never was. I played sports in high school, but more often than not, games and meets just made me nervous and I’d spend a lot of time in the bathroom beforehand.
What I realized as an adult, however, is that you can have the same team sports mentality without playing “official” team sports (although there’s still that option as well — try googling adult sports in your area). Consistently taking exercise classes at the same (or similar) times allows you to get to know the other people in the class as well as the instructor. It’s not “officially” a team sport, but it might as well be as you are all there working towards the same goals and helping each other be better in the process.
Upon reflection of my own path, here is what I’ve come to realize about group fitness and it’s relationship to my mental health.
You make friends
I’ve made most of my friends as an adult through my career as a personal trainer, instructor, and class attendee. Connection is so important in caring for our mental health because we don’t feel alone. Making friends through fitness gives you one thing you already have in common. You could also extrapolate team sports to really anything where you gather with the same people over a shared interest or hobby.
(my baby shower – all friends from the gym 🙂 )
You feel supported
It’s a great feeling to know that people are invested in helping you be the best version of yourself. Whether that means cheering you on, motivating you to try a heavier weight, or just telling you you did a good job, having a team that has your back is a great feeling.
You’re more likely to show up
I know that when I’m struggling, I’m less likely to show up. It’s much more comfortable to isolate and hide than it is to face others and get myself outside my home. When you have something you regularly show up for and then you don’t, people will notice. People will reach out. By making it a habit, it will also be easier for you to go than if you are starting something brand new and don’t know anyone. Friends make you feel good.
You’ll work harder
Whenever I’m around other people, I almost always tend to work a little harder. It’s difficult to motivate yourself if you’re alone in a gym or at home, which I think most of us can attest to. Being around others allows you to feed off that energy and will often give you a better workout than one you do by yourself.
I’d love to know your thoughts on this! Let me know in the comments 🙂