How Physical Fitness And Sports Help Shape Our Lives - May 10, 2017 Newsletter

How Physical Fitness And Sports Help Shape Our Lives

EHE Newsletter, Volume 17, Number 50
May 10, 2017

Being physically fit and regularly participating in physical activity-whether it is going to the gym, playing a sport or going for a brisk walk-- has beneficial effects on all aspects of our lives—physical, cognitive/mental, and social. The earlier you start, the greater the positive effects. That’s why it’s important to introduce physical activity in childhood, so individuals have the chance to make fitness a habit by developing the knowledge, skills, and confidence that will encourage them to be physically active for a lifetime. Fortunately, although starting in childhood is best, it’s never too late to reap the benefits of regular physical activity.

How Does Physical Fitness Shape our Physical Health?

According to the Physical Activity Guidelines Advisory Committee Report, 2008 , “Very strong scientific evidence based on a wide range of well-conducted studies shows that physically active people have higher levels of health-related fitness, a lower risk profile for developing a number of disabling medical conditions, and lower rates of various chronic diseases than do people who are inactive.” The physical benefits can be seen in children and adolescents, adults and older adults. Specifically:

  • Children and Adolescents: Young people who participate in regular physical activity appropriate for their developmental stage have greater cardiorespiratory endurance and muscular strength, lower body fat, lower risk for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, and enhanced bone health, compared with their inactive peers. This is because regular physical activity helps children and adolescents develop healthy bones, muscles and joints; healthy heart and lungs; coordination and movement control; and maintain a healthy body weight.
  • Adults : Compared to their less active peers, adults who participate in regular physical activity have a lower incidence of many chronic diseases including coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and some cancers (i.e. colon and breast). They also have better cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, a healthier body mass and composition, a lower risk for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, better bone health, and a lower rates of all-cause mortality.
  • Older Adults: Older adults who are regularly active enjoy all of the benefits listed above for adults, and are also better able to maintain their functional independence because they can continue to perform their normal daily activities. They also have less risk of falling.

How Does Physical Fitness Shape our Cognitive and Mental Health?

Regular physical activity throughout the lifespan promotes positive cognitive and mental health. It can help alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and depression, improve our mood, reduce stress, increase confidence, improve focus, and help keep cognitive skills sharp as we age. It also increases our energy, helps us sleep better at night and enhances our overall sense of well-being—all of which are great for our mental health!

  • Children and Adolescents: An article in the January 2015 Psychiatric Times, that analyzed several studies on the mental health benefits of exercise in children concluded that “Overall, studies provide support for the benefits of physical exercise in children and adolescents on executive function, brain activity, and depressive symptoms.” Further, a meta-analysis of 59 studies on children’s physical activity and cognitive outcomes conducted between 1947 and 2009 and published online January 23, 2013 in the Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport found that physical activity has a significant and positive effect on children's achievement and cognitive outcomes—with aerobic activity having the greatest effect.
    There are many positive mental health effects for children and adolescents that participate in organized sports. According to Organized Sports and the Health of Children and Youth , when children and adolescents participate in organized sports regularly they tend to feel more skilled, capable and confident than their non-participating peers. Girls, in particular, also report being more accepting of their body image. Regular participation in organized sports has been shown to reduce the likelihood that adolescents will engage in risky behaviors such as tobacco use, drug use, and sexual activity. Finally, sports help children and adolescents develop many important life skills such as resilience, perseverance, regulation of emotions, teamwork, leadership, good decision-making, critical thinking, flexibility, a goal-oriented mind-set, and empathy. Developing these skills at a young age can lead to better coping skills and stronger mental health later in life when bigger challenges are encountered.
  • Adults and Older Adults: Regular physical activity helps decrease the production of stress hormones, increases production of endorphins, helps us release muscle tension and acts as an outlet for pent-up emotions and frustrations. It can also increase energy and help tone the body which can increase self-confidence and self-esteem. It also contributes to the successful aging of our brains. According to the Dana Foundation, studies have found that regular physical activity benefits the brain in the following ways:
    • enhances memory and learning
    • improves mood and reduces stress
    • counteracts depression
    • enlarges blood vessels which increases the supply of oxygen and glucose to the brain, both of which are needed for the brain to function at its best
    • increases the growth factor-- brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)--which supports and nourishes brain cells
    • increases the production of new neurons in the brain which may be related to improved learning
    • increases the number of glia--brain cells that support neurons and boost neural processing
    There is also increasing evidence that regular physical activity reduces the risk of dementia and Parkinson’s disease.

How Does Physical Fitness Help Shape Us Socially

There are many social benefits to participating in regular physical activity, particularly in a group setting such as on a sports team or in an exercise class. It supports and promotes the development of social skills in children and adolescents and help adults form new friendships and develop and/or maintain a support system.

  • Children and Adolescents: Being part of a sports team imparts a sense of belonging and the opportunity to make new friends. Regularly interacting with coaches, referees and other players helps teach kids the important skill of listening to and respecting others. It also teaches the importance of working cooperatively to achieve a common goal. Playing by the rules and overcoming adversity helps youths learn the importance of good sportsmanship and personal responsibility. In order to continue to play on sports teams as time progresses, time management and good organizational skills must be developed in order to succeed athletically and academically. Developing these skills in childhood and adolescence provides a solid foundation of social skills that can translate to success as an adult.
    The World Health Organization states that “participation in physical activity can assist in the social development of young people by providing opportunities for self-expression, building self-confidence, social interaction and integration.” And, according to Learning to Play and Playing to Learn: Organized Sports and Educational Outcomes , organized sports create opportunities for children and adolescents to interact with their peers, teach teamwork and leadership, provide structure and supervision from caring adults, and create environments where coaches can become mentors.
  • Adults and Older Adults: Working out at the gym or participating in a sport provides opportunities for adults to expand their social network by allowing them to meet new people that share a common interest. For those that prefer to take a walk or a hike, joining a hiking/walking club in the community can serve the same purpose.

What is the Bottom Line?

According to the President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition :

  • “Only one in three children is physically active every day.
  • Less than 5% of adults participate in 30 minutes of physical activity each day; only one in three adults receive the recommended amount of physical activity each week.
  • Only 35 – 44% of adults 75 years or older are physically active, and 28-34% of adults ages 65-74 are physically active.”


This is extremely unfortunate because so many people are missing out on an enormous opportunity to improve every aspect of their lives! From childhood to adulthood, whether participating in organized sports, pick-up games, going to the gym or walking or jogging in your neighborhood—being physically active improves your physical and cognitive/mental health, and your social life. Although beginning physical activity at an early age is the ideal scenario, for all the reasons already mentioned, the good news is that it is never too late to reap the benefits of physical activity. Even if you start small by taking a walk around the block, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator everyday—the sooner you start the sooner you will be able to see positive results. Every little bit begins to add up, so get started today!


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MEDICAL DISCLAIMER: The information is not intended to constitute medical advice and is not a substitute for consultation with a physician or other healthcare provider. Individuals with specific complaints should seek immediate consultation from their personal physicians.

Source - EHE

EHE International