Improving wellness through regular physical activity and sport participation

Welcome back to The Wellbeing Edit. In my last Edition, I talked about moving more and made some suggestions for how movement can be integrated throughout the day. In this Edit, I’ll build on that by discussing how overall wellness can be improved through participating in sports and engaging in regular physical activity. 

Physical activity covers a broad range of different types of activity, some common examples include walking, wheeling, cycling, and even doing chores around the home can count as physical activity – basically anything that involves getting your muscles and bones moving! A sub-set of physical activity is sport and exercise. Sport and exercise events are typically more organised bouts of physical activity. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has developed a fact sheet with recommendations for different groups and ideally, these recommended volumes of physical activity would be accumulated through increased movement, reduced sedentary behaviour and engagement with some form of sport and/or exercise. 

There are well evidenced benefits of health-related improvements of regular physical activity and sports participation, examples include, improved physical condition and function; reduced risk of cardiovascular issues; reduced risk of falls; healthy body weight; and improved mental health. But what about the wellbeing benefits?

Wellbeing is a little bit different to health, and can, in certain incidences, be less tangible. However, it is no less impactful and is an important component of our overall health. Wellbeing is defined by the WHO as ‘a positive state experienced by individuals and societies. At an individual level, positive wellbeing is important for quality of life, a sense of purpose, and, in certain contexts, a feeling that you are a part of something. More broadly, at a social level, wellbeing is important for resilience, adaptability, and a sense of strength to deal with issues at societal level. While there is an abundance of things we can all do to improve wellbeing, taking part in physical activity and sports is an excellent example where everyone can experience positive wellbeing benefits. 

Research has shown that women who engage in physical activity and sport report improved wellbeing, both physical and mental, and feel more socially connected. And that’s even for those who have a low volume of activity. However, engagement in physical activity and sports is reported to be less than that of men, and women are more likely to be insufficiently active. Dr Brooke Harris-Reeves suggests there is a need for: “Inclusive and less competitive environments can increase their [women’s] engagement with sport and physical activity, but women’s participation in sport and physical activity is also influenced by their individual, cultural and social origins. Program designers and providers can leverage those influences to help motivate girls and women to participate in sport and physical activity programs.”

In Scotland, my personal opinion is that we do wellbeing in sport pretty well. There is a wide range of resources to support coaches, providers, and participants. The SportScotland ‘Mental Health and Wellbeing e-Learning Module’ is a great example of this. As is the ‘Feel Your Personal Best’ campaign, which is a collaboration between SportScotland, SAMH, and Public Health Scotland – complemented with some lovely stories and case studies of people sharing what makes them feel their personal best. From my own research, I know that developing these resources and interventions is only part of the puzzle. Disseminating them to everyone who could find them useful is often the greatest challenge. 

We can all play our part in sharing what we know and the tools we use, however, there remains groups and populations for whom we could do more to understand the challenges and barriers to participating in regular physical activity, sport, and exercise.

In my next Edit, I’ll delve into this in more detail.  

Leave a Reply