Too Old Not To Play
As kids, many of us lived for the moments we shared on the field, court, diamond, or pitch. Friendships forged, character reviled, and countless memories made, but as adulthood settles in and responsibilities build up, we often yearn for something we don’t even know were missing. What life often restricts us from is the freedom experienced when engaged in sport. In those simpler times, the mind is free from the worries and demands of a career and family. You play the game to have fun, and you have fun because you are playing a game.
But why is it that so many adults abandon this former source of joy. A study performed by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health revealed that while 75% percent of adults participated in sports during their youth, only 25% of them are still playing. This however didn’t stop these adults who are parents, from encouraging their children to play. In fact, 89% of those parents with a middle school or high school student saw sports as a beneficial factor in their mental and physical health.
So why is it that so many adults participated in sport, have children involved in sports, but yet themselves stay on the sidelines? This same study found that the leading reasons adults didn’t take part were health issues, lack of interest, or general inconvenience. While these can be argued as legitimate justifications, the positives provided through the involvement in sports are simply undeniable.
This may be the most obvious advantage to participating in sports as an adult. Many of us are aware that being active can have a positive impact on preventing heart disease, controlling weight, and improve muscle and bone health. These benefits can be achieved with regular exercise including running, walking, and gym routines. However, there are specific physical benefits that sports can provide that are often missed in those traditional workouts. Many team sports require a combination of running, jumping, diving, catching, and throwing that can assist in balance and spatial awareness. These types of movements are often left out of a gym exercise, but actually prepare you for the activities you face in real life.
Eric Sternlicht, a PhD and President of nutrition and exercise consulting firm Simply Fit, further explains that “When you are working at a fixed intensity, you tend to develop and strengthen only one system – like the heart’s ability to deliver oxygen but not the muscles’ ability to utilize it. During a game, you get spikes of activity, and end up recruiting and training different muscle fibers at varying intensities, which can help with endurance, stamina, power, and strength.” On top of that, it’s likely that you’ll find an increase in calories burned by moving at a competitive intensity. So not only are you training different parts of your body and working at a higher rate, but you are forgetting that it’s a workout all together, as your mind shifts to a competitive environment.
While we know being active is great for the body, it’s most impactful impression may be on the mind. Everything from motivation, stress relief, self-esteem improvement, and cognitive development can all be achieved with participation in sports. Studies have shown that people who dislike or feel awkward during their workouts will not continue with them. This is a situation that is common for many adults, who enter these spaces with the best intentions, only to quickly lose motivation. What sport does is take some of that pressure away, allowing you to focus on the joy experienced in competitive environment.
What can also be a huge boost to motivation is inclusion in a team atmosphere. Sports psychologist Karen D. Cogan, PhD, of the University of North Texas explains that “it’s a differently philosophy – you’re thinking more in terms of the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.” Essential, creating accountability to the individual to continue participation, which in turn leadings to continued self-improvement.
Other cerebral improvements, that may be overlooked, are also found in those adults who continue to play sports. A New York Times article revealed that regular physical activity had been shown to increase new brain cells in the regions of the brain that are integral to memory and thinking. It’s also important for adults to continue to test their brain, and learning a new motor skill in particularly cognitively challenging. Previous neurological studies have shown that learning a new physical skill in adulthood can lead to increased volume of gray matter in parts of the brain related to movement control. Much like the use of brainteasers and crossword puzzle as a way to sharpen your brain, the addition of a new sport has the same effect with the added benefit of exercise.
As if enhanced mental and physical capabilities weren’t enough justification for adults to return to the field of play, the social aspect of sport may be the most essential. While maintaining a regular gym routine or waking up for a run every morning can have many of the same benefits, there a certain experiences that can only be exhibited through sports. Join a recreational team as an adult can be an integral part to our health and happiness. Research has shown that while fitness results may differ depending on the individual, there are other socio-emotional health benefits to participating in group or team athletics. Having routine practice or games encourages us to simply get out and participate in a social environment. This can be significant for those who struggle or are susceptible to depression and anxiety.
One thing many adults struggle with is the creation and maintenance of friendly social relationships. As jobs, families, or other circumstances may relocate individuals to new and unfamiliar regions, many are left without the comforts of companionship. Once you’re out of the school environment, it is very difficult to make new connections with those of shared interests. But with sports, you’ll be exposed to different groups of people, and given the opportunity to develop new and meaningful relationships.
Sport also have the ability to return us to a simpler time. Chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise stated that, “team sports take us back to childhood, so we start to play again. When you’re engaging with other people while exercising, you tend to stop worrying about whether you’re doing ‘enough’ and instead just get involved in the activity because it’s fun.” And it is this pursuit of fun that can lead to a physically, mentally, and socially healthier life.
So take out your frustrations and stress by joining your local rugby club. Sign up for a rec soccer or basketball league to achieve a new level of fitness. Make new friends and restore some enjoyment to your life by going out there and getting back in the game.
By Dylan Hamilton – Adult Athlete and Writer for SportsUnlimited.com. Sports equipment and athletic apparel at SportsUnlimited.com