Sports, exercise and positive body image
For some of us, the idea of playing in the outdoors everyday is a distant memory of our childhood. Playing outdoors or running usually takes a backseat as we grow up and get other priorities such as academics or a job. We know that exercise or any physical activity releases endorphins in our body which positively contributes to our general mental wellbeing. But, outdoor activities also have a great impact on how we view our bodies and affect our body image. Dissatisfaction with body has been linked with several physical and mental health issues, including poor self esteem, obesity, depression and eating disorders.
A study was conducted on a group of adolescents in Iceland who played sports to ascertain whether playing sports have any effect on the body image and self esteem of the person. Participants who practiced sports everyday had higher self-esteem and self confidence and were able to conduct themselves better. Also, the frequency of female participation in sports resulted in positive body image as well, as it increased their perception of self.
A similar study was conducted on African-American girls which showed participants who engaged in athletic programs had high self-esteem and showed improvement in their academic achievement. Therefore, participants who practice sports tend to experience academic and social benefits like fewer personal problems and overall happiness, points out the study.
Dr Chaitanya Sridhar, sports psychologist based in Bangalore, says that athletes and those playing sports or doing some form of exercise such as running, jogging etc have a healthy perception of their bodies. “As sportspersons, they are also their fittest self during their playing years. But on the other hand, professional players who face immense pressure to always perform well may resort to extreme measures to maintain their looks and body, and also struggle to balance their performance.”
Swetha Devraj, a fitness expert and a former tennis player, says that in her personal experience, sports help children, especially girls, build confidence and feel powerful. “I think sports can influence any child in a big way and mostly positive mentally and physically. Personally I got to know that we become more social and engaging with everyone once we start sports. Sports let's us travel a bit and travelling always makes you more knowledgable about places you visit and understand people around you. With knowledge comes a person's maturity, which will be more than a kid who doesn't play a sport.”
As parents, it is important to understand that children need to receive support and encouragement from you to continue sports as they grow older, as sports can act as a de-stresser. Olympic swimmer and Arjuna awardee Rehan Poncha, who now runs a coaching academy for children, adds, “Parents can show role-models in the sports that children are interested in; and we have several in our country. Show them the healthy lifestyle of a sportsperson and the discipline it can bring to their lives. Talk to them about how fit they would be by playing something for fun or competition, and the overall health they would achieve.”
“No matter how much pressure on studies, you don't have to cut out sports completely from your life, instead use it as a vent to release your energies.” says Poncha.
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