Children and Sports – Physical and Mental Health Benefits

Why should children join sporting clubs and what are the physical and mental health benefits? A child’s physical and mental health benefits significantly from participation in sports, sports can be more than just a way to pass the time after school and on weekends. Regular exercise can help children strengthen bones and muscles, get sound sleep, and reduce the risk of obesity and health problems with an added bonus of boosting self-esteem and improve social skills.

According to the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, A systematic review of 14 electronic databases was conducted in June 2012, and studies published since 1990 were considered for inclusion. Studies that addressed mental and/or social health benefits from participation in sport were included. A total of 3668 publications were initially identified, of which 30 met the selection criteria. There were many different psychological and social health benefits reported, with the most common being improved self-esteem, social interaction followed by fewer depressive symptoms. Sport may be associated with improved psychosocial health above and beyond improvements attributable to participation in PA. Specifically, team sport seems to be associated with improved health outcomes compared to individual activities, due to the social nature of the participation.

Physical and Mental health Benefits

1- Reduced Risk of Obesity. The promotion of engaging in sports from a young age will increase the child’s likelihood to continue with an active lifestyle as they age. This prolonged involvement in physical activity will reduce the risk of obesity and therefore, Type II Diabetes, which is a rising issue in Australia at present.
Increased Cardiovascular Fitness. Partaking in physical activity will enhance the ability of the heart to pump blood to the lungs and peripherally. An efficient pump will enhance the blood circulation to the muscles and decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease later in life.

2- Promotes Growth and Development. Exercise is a critical component of a child’s development. Building strong bones and increasing muscle strength in children is a vital component for the foundation of a healthy lifestyle. Creating this solid structure within a child’s body is essential in decreasing the risk of injury and assisting in good posture.

3- Improves Gross Motor Skills. Sports can be used as a mastery to enhance various motor skills such as hand-eye coordination and balance. Improving these skills will aid children in controlling their body movement during physical performance, decreasing energy demands, and therefore, minimizing fatigue. It will also allow children to carry out gross motor skills successfully, reducing the risk of injury and increasing the likelihood of a sustained active lifestyle.

4- Boosts Confidence and Self-Esteem. Exercise in a team environment has a very positive effect on a child’s confidence and self-esteem. Active encouragement and reassurance from teammates and adults will assist in boosting a child’s self-esteem. Through this positive experience, the child will build confidence in their ability.
Reduces Stress and Depression. Active involvement in sports reduces stress and depression by decreasing levels of the body’s stress hormones (e.g. cortisol) and stimulating the release of “happy” hormones (e.g. endorphins). The release of endorphins triggers a positive feeling in the body and elevate one’s mood.

5- Improves Sleep Habits. Exercise dramatically improves sleep habits by increasing daytime alertness and therefore, assisting to ‘turn down’ at night. Sleep plays an especially important role in children by promoting growth, increasing attention span, and progressing their learning ability. Overall, a substantial amount of sleep will immensely benefit a child’s physical and mental well-being.
Results in Higher Academic Achievement. A child’s participation in sport can assist in achieving higher academically due to the vast impact that exercise has on concentration and problem-solving skills. Exercise encourages the brain to work at its maximum capacity and induces blood flow to the brain. This assists in strengthening the inter-relationships and forming solid connections between nerves. As a result of this, it allows for improved concentration, enhanced memory, stimulated creativity, and advanced problem-solving skills.

6- Improves Social Interaction Skills. A child’s participation in sport is critical in learning effective interaction. Working in a team environment will allow them to establish efficient communicating skills in a group setting – a vital component necessary in life. Being in a team will also provide children with a sense of belonging/community.

This article is provided by Dr. Ralph Kueche (Child Psychologist). Dr. Kuechle is a Child and Adolescent Clinical Psychologist who specializes in treating children and their families who may be struggling with mood and behavioral issues. Learn more about Dr. Kuechle.