Spending time playing sports, athletics positively affects community mental health

Photo of track
Leo Bernstein Newman / The Mossy Log

Many studies, some more recent, have shown that regular exercise greatly improves mental and physical health in the long term and is enhanced even further with consistency. 

Sports are a good way to create motivation, as they can make exercise feel like a game and will come with a short term dopamine and adrenaline release. Libby Barrese ’24, a member of LC’s rowing team described the positive impact of  sports and time outside on their  mental health.

“Being on a team sport has been a benefit to my mental health throughout college,” Barrese said. “Being able to get outside every day and row on the Willamette with my teammates helps me maintain a healthy mindset. I love the water and rowing is a huge part of what keeps me refreshed and active throughout the week.”

Sports can often also help with stress management, and has shown very many times to produce an antidepressant-like effect in both lab mice and in humans.  

Isabelle DeMarte, an associate professor of French, who recently started exercising regularly said she feels better on days where she is active.

“Especially coming from somebody who used to not exercise regularly… but who now does exercise regularly, I see, on a daily basis, a difference between when I don’t move and a day when I go for a run or a walk,” DeMarte said. “It has a direct impact on my mood and on the positivity of my mood”.”

Beyond personal impacts, team sports such as soccer, rowing or volleyball, where people work together to achieve goals can greatly benefit one’s social environment, which has a great impact on their mentality. There is a strong sense of community, camaraderie and teamwork in team sports. 

“Having a support system of so many people with a similar experience to me is amazing. The commitment of sheer time and physical energy is grueling, but I have made my strongest friendships with the people that are always by my side going through the same thing,” Barrese said.  

Although there are many other activities that one can participate in that require group work, the effect of team sports are amplified by the physical exercise and competitive nature of the activities. 

Where one might feel lonely while working or living alone, having a shared community, especially where one can physically benefit from the activity, can make them feel less alone and more motivated in general. 

Pairing exercise and movement with meditation and mindfulness can improve focus and cognitive processes. When asked about how she uses meditation and mindfulness, Madame DeMarte explained that “I listen to guided meditation of various kinds on a daily basis for several years because I had physical health issues,” DeMarte said. “ … I would have a hard time sleeping or staying asleep. I would wake up, my mind would be on a treadmill … or on a wheel that doesn’t stop turning. Similar to the effects of physical exercise and mood, the effect of meditation has allowed me to slow down the stress related pace of work and life in general. ”

Getting outside once in a while or getting away from the stresses of work or school life is greatly beneficial for everyone. Moving your body or calming the mind can often take you away, at least temporarily, from the physical or mental stressors that can start to weigh on you. Walking or playing outside with friends or even alone has been shown to greatly improve one’s mental health, especially with consistency.

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