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Youth Sports and Improved Health


Posted: 8/31/2016
Youth Sports and Improved Health

Getting kids active has been a focus for decades.  Childhood obesity is on the rise.  Getting kids involved in youth sports is a great way to get them active and keep them healthy.  With youth sports, kids gain numerous health benefits beyond just maintaining a healthy weight.  This back to school season, get your kids involved in a fall sport for both physical and mental health benefits.

Physical Health Benefits

1.Improve Heart Health.  Regular exercise improves circulation and lowers blood pressure.  Participants in sports also have lower bad cholesterol and higher good cholesterol in comparison with sedentary people.  The regular exercise from practices and training for a sport can dramatically improve heart health.

2.Build Muscle and Strengthen Bones.  Sports help build and tone muscles as well as strengthen bones.  Muscles and bones both become stronger as they push and pull against one another during sports.  Weight bearing physical activities, such as running and jumping, help to strengthen bones better than non weight bearing sports such as swimming. 

3.Maintain a Healthy Weight.  Playing sports burns calories and burning calories helps with weight loss.  While maintaining a healthy weight isn't all about weight loss, shedding pounds due to excess fat stores is a good thing.  Children who are already at a healthy weight when they start a sports season often see their weight drop a little at the start of the season from all the fat they are burning off, then see their weight start to go back up as they build lean muscle mass and their appetite increases from all the excess calories they are burning off.

4.Improve Endurance.  Improvement in endurance comes from the repetition in practices that are part of any sport.  Better endurance is a byproduct of the improved circulation, heart health, bone and muscle strength.  Improved endurance means the ability to perform longer or higher intensity workouts, which means burning even more calories!

5.Better Sleep.  Sports help athletes get better sleep too!  In the short term, physical activity raises blood pressure, increases circulation and heartbeat, makes people sweat, and releases endorphins that give us energy.  As time passes after the high intensity exercise of sports, heart rates go back to normal, blood pressure lowers, and the endorphins wear off.  The extra energy from exercise helps keep kids more active in the hours following the activity, but by the end of the day, the extra energy wears off and the energy exerted during intense exercise cause exhaustion.  This can help your child fall asleep faster and get fuller deeper sleep.

Mental Health Benefits

1.Improve Mood and Reduce Depression.  Physical activities cause the release of endorphins which help to relax the mind and improve mood.  But sports also require focus and concentration, allowing athletes to temporarily shut out stressors in their life.  Sports also bring people together.  Socializing and connecting with friends and teammates will help to ward off depression.

2.Better Concentration.  Increased blood flow to the brain combined with specialized athletic skills that require strength, balance, agility, and practice will help improve an athlete's concentration.  Whether it is knowing where a teammate will be in football, soccer, or field hockey; or figuring out the trajectory of the ball in golf, tennis, or volleyball; sports require a tremendous amount of concentration.  Developing these skills on the practice field will carry over into everyday life to improve overall concentration.

3.Boost Self Esteem.  There are numerous ways sports can build up your child's self esteem.  Even if your child isn't the greatest athlete, being able to properly execute their role as part of a team will greatly improve their sense of self worth.  They will also gain confidence with the incremental improvements they make as they improve at their sport.  Whether they get a personal best in swimming or cross country, score their first goal, or make their first par, there are a plethora of accomplishments which will help your child view themselves more positively.

4.Stay Calm and Persevere.  In sports there is always an opponent and always adversity.  The only way to overcome and succeed is to think on your feet and persevere through that adversity.  Sports teach children to stay calm in the face of adversity because many sports are a game of inches requiring split second decisions.  Sports teach the athlete to push through under duress until they cross the finish line or the final seconds tick off the clock.

5.Gain Positive Character Traits.  Sports teach the importance of teamwork and responsibility; each player is responsible to their teammates and they all have to work together.  Kids learn discipline through hard work and listening to their coach.  Sports teaches them to set goals for themselves as well as the team.  They learn leadership skills, healthy competition, and respect for their opponent.  The lessons gained from these positive character traits can carry over and lead to greater success and greater happiness throughout their life.

Youth sports can have a tremendous positive impact on your child's life in the short term as well as for years to come.  The physical and mental benefits of playing sports are unparalleled by other forms of exercise.  Despite all the positives, participation in sports is not without its risks.  The health risks involved can vary depending on the sport.  Here are some of the health risks involved with popular fall sports to help you determine which sport may be best for your child.

Health Risks

1.Injury.  All sports carry some risk of injury.  Lower body injuries, such as sprains and strains are among the most common sports injuries.  Some sports, like football and soccer, have a higher risk of injury than other sports, like golf and swimming.  Stretching, proper hydration, and pacing oneself can help to prevent injury.

2.Concussion.  Over the last few years concussions have been garnering a lot of attention in the media as they shed light on the long term repercussions of these injuries.  Fall sports like football, soccer and field hockey report the most concussions; cheerleading and volleyball report a moderate number of concussions; and swimming, golf, tennis, and cross country have a relatively low incidence of concussion.  Soccer reports much higher incidents of concussion in girls soccer compared to boys soccer, but both have a relatively high risk in comparison to other sports. 

3.Dehydration.  Staying hydrated is very important in sports, especially in the heat of late summer and early fall.  Moderate dehydration can lead to headaches and dizziness while severe dehydration can lead to fever, fainting, low blood pressure or even death.  As you sweat from rigorous exercise, your body loses more fluids than it normally would take in so it is important to hydrate before, after, and during sports.

4.Asthma.  People who suffer from asthma may find that exercise triggers asthma flare-ups.  If your child suffers from asthma, make sure they have an asthma action plan and rescue inhaler with them at practice.  Your child may have to pace themselves during practice, but in the long run, the exercise may eventually help them better manage their asthma symptoms.

5.Over doing it.  Many injuries can be caused by novice athletes trying to do too much too fast.  It takes a little while for the body to adjust to the exertion required for sports, and extreme heat and lack of fluids can exacerbate things.  Even seasoned athletes can get overuse injuries by over doing it at practice.  Encourage your child to listen to their body and rest or pace themselves if they have too, especially in the first couple of weeks while their body gets acclimated to the intensity of sports workouts.


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