Solo activities might torch calories but research shows you could miss out on big benefits if you always choose to work out alone over joining team sports like volleyball or basketball.
When it comes to workouts, consider joining that corporate softball league or spending weekends on the gridiron. Team sports offer certain advantages over individual fitness activities, according to Rochelle Eime, PhD, an associate professor with the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Active Living at Victoria University in Australia.
“The social nature of participation in team sports contributes to better mental health,” Eime explains. “This includes social connectedness, social support, peer bonding and self-esteem … For adults, social reasons are a main motivator to play sports.”
TEAM SPORTS GO BEYOND THE SOCIAL ASPECT
Team sports also offer significant health benefits: Research published in BMC Public Health found that participating in team sports increased overall physical activity levels. Moreover, a poll conducted by Harvard University found that adults who played sports reported improved physical health, lower levels of stress and positive mental health.
“When adults play sports, it’s about competition, personal satisfaction and health. More than one in five adults who play sports do so for health-related reasons, and it’s a priority in their lives,” Robert J. Blendon, the Richard L. Menschel Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in a statement.
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Despite the benefits, adult participation in team sports is low. The Harvard researchers found just 25% of adults played sports — and participation declined with age, plummeting from 41% of 22–25 year olds to 26% of those aged 26–49 and just 20% of adults older than 50.
The poll also found gender differences in sports participation. Men were more than twice as likely to play team sports as women. Men preferred team sports like basketball and football whereas women were more apt to sign up for baseball or volleyball.
Eime, who has conducted several studies on team sports participation, notes, “In a study of adult females, participation in team sports was associated with better mental health and life satisfaction than for those women who participated in individual activities likes walking.”
Although it can be more difficult to find organized sports leagues for adults, the YMCA, local sport and social clubs and parks and recreation departments often offer options. Your workplace might also sponsor a team — if there isn’t one now, ask about starting a corporate league. Consider non-traditional teams, too: Team environments can be found in individual sports such as swimming and track and field. Even group exercise classes are designed to foster a “let’s do this together” approach to fitness.
Kristen Dieffenbach, PhD, executive board member of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, notes that there is more to benefiting from team sports than signing up for a league and taking your place on the field or court. “The big important point here is that it’s not team sports that impart the benefit,” she says. “It’s a quality team sport experience that provides an opportunity for positive benefits.”
NOT ALL TEAM ENVIRONMENTS ARE HEALTHY
A team that is too competitive or focuses on performance — and pushes team members past their fitness levels, potentially causing injuries — could have the opposite effect. Dieffenbach suggests looking for leagues that are a good fit with your interest and skill or fitness level.
“Everyone likes to feel competent and feel like they fit in and their contributions matter,” she says. “A healthy team environment — one that has a positive leader and considers and supports participant development and well-being — can provide a level of challenge for motivation and fitness gains.”
If Little League was your last experience with team sports, look for opportunities to get together with others — a casual touch football league or kickball games in the park definitely count — and discover the benefits of breaking a sweat with a group.
GEAR UP FOR YOUR NEXT GAME