We’ve all heard the stereotype of the dumb jock, but a new study suggests that high school sports may actually be good for students’ brains. About 55% of high school students are athletes, and between 23% and 40% of all high school students report feelings of stress, depression, or anxiety. Students may be able to reduce these feelings by participating in sports, and the study suggests that high school sports participation may even have long-term mental health benefits.
High School Sports and Mental Health
The study surveyed nearly 850 students attending 10 different Canadian schools. Students completed surveys about sports participation every year for their five years of secondary school. Then, three years after graduation, researchers asked students about symptoms of depression and stress levels. Students were also asked to rate their mental health on a scale of 1 to 5.
Students who had a history of high school sports participation did better on all three measures of mental health than students who did not play sports. They had lower rates of depression, less stress, and perceived their mental health to be better. Researchers aren’t sure why high school sports positively benefited mental health in the students. They speculate, though, that increased social activity, a connection to their schools, and the chance to bond with their peers may all help reduce the risk of mental health challenges.
Other Benefits of High School Sports
The latest study isn’t the only one to show major mental health benefits for high school athletes. Previous research has shown that high school sports participation can confer the following mental health benefits:
- A reduced risk of teen pregnancy.
- A decreased likelihood of using drugs such as cocaine and marijuana.
- Higher self-esteem, with student athletes about three times as likely as non-athletes to say they feel good about themselves.
- Feeling socially accepted. Athletes have better social skills and are more likely to say their friends care about them.
- Better grades and test scores.
- Jewett, Rachel; Sabiston, Catherine M.; Brunet, Jennifer; O’Loughlin, Erin K.; Scarapicchia, Tanya; O’Loughlin, Jennifer. (2014, June 11). School Sport Participation During Adolescence and Mental Health in Early Adulthood. Journal of Adolescent Health. DOI: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2014.04.018
- National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. (2007, July 26). Not Just Another Single Issue: Teen Pregnancy and Athletic Involvement. Retrieved from http://www.education.com/reference/article/Ref_Not_Just_Another/
- Sports Promote Psychological and Emotional Health. (2013). DatalysCenter. Retrieved from http://datalyscenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/06/Sports-Promote-Psychological-Emotional-Health.pdf
- Study shows high school athletes perform better in school, persist to graduation more than non-athletes. (2014, January 24). Retrieved from http://news.ku.edu/2014/01/15/study-shows-high-school-athletes-performed-better-school-persisted-graduation-more-non
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