We all know that the health benefits of regular exercise are significant. For those of us still deliberating what type of exercise to take up this New Year, more and more studies are suggesting that we should become involved in team sports – not only to improve our physical health, but also to strengthen our mental wellbeing.
SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
According to studies published by Sports England in 2017, we should all be getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week (think a brisk walk), or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise (think sprints). The beauty with team sports is that, more often than not, you’re encouraged to lean towards the side of more vigorous exercise when your desire not to let your teammates down overrides feelings of fatigue. Not to mention the fact that you’re more likely to commit to turning up week-in, week-out.
Our pick: Football
You can’t get much more obvious than this, but we thought we’d start off simply. Football is a sport that requires constant movement to get up and down the field, constant changes of speed and direction, hand-eye co-ordination, flexibility and stamina – all of which improve cardiovascular health and aerobic capacity, all the while increasing strength. Best of all, you can get involved no matter what your skill level is. So whether it’s five-a-side, Sunday League or semi-professional, somewhere there’s a football team for you.
Find a kickabout near you at www.thefa.com/play-football
STAND AND DELIVER
Most of us thrive with a healthy sense of competition, and team sport offers the perfect balance between challenging us to up our game on the sporting front, while maintaining a sense of support and encouragement from your teammates. More than all this, however, sport of any kind (and, in particular, the higher-intensity exercise that team sport engenders) is key in terms of strengthening your cardiac health, building bone density and increasing muscle mass – all of which significantly improve your endurance. So whether it’s keeping up with the latest health trends, keeping up with your own fitness goals, or just keeping up with the kids, team sport could be the way forward.
Our pick: Rugby
Rugby is one of the most physical team sports out there, where you’re basically faced with a choice of either keeping up or getting trampled over, so it’s a pretty obvious choice if you’re looking to build up your endurance. But there are few sports better for building trust, companionship and loyalty with your teammates – much like going into battle (we’d imagine). So if you don’t mind the odd bloody nose, mixed, sevens or standard rugby is for you.
Get on the ball and find a rugby team at: www.englandrugby.com/my-rugby/find-rugby
Team sport isn't just beneficial to your physical health. Joining your local sports group is the perfect way to meet new friends in your area, and it has been scientifically proven that working as part of a group to achieve a shared goal in sport boosts feelings of connectedness, peer bonding and social support – which, in turn, may reduce stress, anxiety and depression. Running on a treadmill doesn’t necessarily allow you to switch off from all the stresses of the day, whereas the high-intensity, communication and targeted-focus necessary in many team sports often provides a mindful distraction from normality, and being part of a team undoubtedly fosters a sense of belonging – something you don’t always get from pounding the pavements on your morning run. That built-in support system has been known to significantly foster stronger feelings of self-identity and greater self-esteem, which is always a plus in our book.
Our pick: Netball
In 2010, researchers from the University of Ballarat and the University of Queensland found that women who participated in netball clubs enjoyed better mental health and life satisfaction than women who exercised at a gym, even there was no difference in the women’s physical health. So ladies, forget your high school experiences on the court and get playing again – turns out a healthier you really does make for a happier you.
Get Back To Netball at: www.englandnetball.co.uk/backtonetbal
Ok, while it hasn’t exactly been proven that participating in team sport makes you categorically ‘smarter’, it has been found to improve your co-ordination, reaction time and agility far more than exercising alone – as shown in studies by Ben Kirk, PhD researcher in exercise and nutritional science at Liverpool Hope University (amongst other research). The skills that you need to play a team sport are the same as those required to drive a car, for example, as it is that capacity of tracking multiple objects at the same time. So not only are these skills the ones that will help you improve in your chosen sport, but they will also improve your day-to-day brain function by triggering the growth of connectors in your mind.
While academic credentials may not be directly impacted by an involvement in team sports, general productivity certainly is. For any employers out there looking to give their workforce a boost, researchers at Loughborough’s School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences have found that playing sport as part of a company team can significantly benefit group function and organisational productivity in the office, as well as general employee health – effectively reducing sickness costs while increasing work performance and team cohesion.
Our pick: Hockey
Following the gold medal-winning success of Team GB’s women in Rio back in 2016, British hockey has never been more popular. And with good reason – this is a sport that’s all about teamwork and communication, anticipation, fast reflexes and plenty of stamina. Best of all (as long as you can take the occasional bruised shin) you can play at any level as part of a men’s, women’s or mixed team – so there’s really no excuse not to.
Up sticks from the gym and try your hand at hockey at: www.englandhockey.co.uk