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Sports are a longtime love of mine—I may not tune into Sunday night football every week or follow my basketball team the whole season through, but I respect, support, and even envy what the players do for a living. When I was just 5 years old, I laced up my first pair of cleats and kicked my first soccer ball into the net. Immediately, I was in love. I practiced, I played hard, and I dreamed of one day going pro.

But then life happened—I had other commitments, found other loves, and dreamed bigger dreams. Still, sports remain an important aspect of my life and my favorite form of exercise because they offer so many great benefits not only to our physical health but our mental health. These mental health benefits may be less obvious, so let us count the ways:

1) Playing sports improves our mood.

Any form of physical activity triggers the release of chemicals called endorphins, which make you feel happier and more relaxed as well. This explains why you feel so great after playing a pick-up game of basketball or throwing a football with your dad—it doesn’t have to be an intense session, it’s just about getting on your feet, increasing your heart rate, and having fun at the same time.

2) It gives us a boost of confidence.

Sports are all about setting, working toward, and accomplishing goals, which can be extremely rewarding and empowering. These goals might be to win the game, to score a goal, to perform your best, or to simply have fun. Whatever the case, setting these team or individual goals can provide heightened feelings of self-worth and confidence.

3) It improves our concentration.

Exercising regularly keeps your mental skills intact, such as critical thinking, learning, and concentration abilities. And on top of that, engaging in physical activity such as playing sports may help prevent development of certain cognitive and neurological disorders, like Alzheimer’s and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). So pick up a bat, a ball, or a glove and get out there!

4) Playing sports helps reduce stress and feelings of depression.

Exercise reduces our level of stress hormones, whilst simultaneously stimulating the production of endorphins, as we discussed earlier. This is equivalent to the perfect equation for reducing stress and keeping the development of depression far, far away, as well as the perfect reason to revisit your favorite sport.

5) It improves our sleep quality.

Have you ever noticed how much easier it is to fall asleep after a good workout or sports game? I sure have. I used to sleep like a baby when I played sports every day. That’s because daily physical activity makes you tired, helps you fall asleep faster, and deepens your sleep as well. As long as you don’t play sports too close to bedtime (which may keep you awake and energized) it is certainly a good way to improve your sleep quality.

6) It provides means for socialization.

Playing team sports provides the perfect opportunity for social interaction. It allows you to spend time and bond with old friends, as well as meet new ones! In addition, this increase in socialization can help reduce stress and also increase your mood, so don’t wait a second longer to tackle your favorite sport or try a new one, whether that be volleyball, football, soccer, hockey, gymnastics, or any others. You’ll reap the many health benefits and have fun doing it.

If you stuck around this long, you might as well...

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