Work out the mind with sport

By now we’ve all learned a bit about how phys­i­cal ex­er­cise plays a role in our moods and state of mind. Ex­er­cise has proven to de­crease anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion, im­prove mood dis­or­ders, pre­vent de­men­tia, and even pre­vent re­lapses of emo­tional and psy­chologi


But sports and ex­er­cise ben­e­fit our minds and our be­hav­iour more than we re­alise. AC­CESS Coun­sel­lors Kata­rina Gaborova and Claire Bo­ers shed some light on the many ways that work­ing the body also works

the mind.

Team up

Kata­rina Gaborova en­joys yoga, aer­o­bics, salsa, swim­ming… “re­ally any­thing,” sev­eral times a week. She puts these per­sonal prin­ci­ples into her coun­selling prac


“...when you’re part of a group, you gain a sense of en­joy­ment, and a sense of be­long­ing. Team sports in­crease your so­cial sup­port, through a sense of help­ing each other…”

When get­ting to know pa­tients, one of the first ques­tions she asks is about the type of ex­er­cise they do and how of­ten. She says, “It’s not so much look­ing at a per­son­al­ity type but in­ter­ests and main is­sues they’re strug­gling with. Some­one who suf­fers from so­cial anx­i­ety, for ex­am­ple, would find it dif­fi­cult to join a base­ball team. But if a pa­tient is strug­gling to learn so­cial skills, for ex­am­ple, then I might rec­om­mend team sports.” Some strong rea­sons for this, says Kata­rina, is that “when you’re part of a group, you gain a sense of en­joy­ment, and a sense of be­long­ing. Team sports in­crease your so­cial sup­port, through a sense of help­ing each other… and team work ac­tu­ally in­creases your sense of self with a spe­cific role in the team’s worth.” There are nu­mer­ous other men­tal health ben­e­fits that we gain from team sports, as Kata­rina lists for us: self-es­teem and con­fi­dence with the pres­sure to per­form in­di­vid­u­ally; de­velop a strong sense of moral­ity given our re­spon­si­bil­ity to the team; learn to fol­low author­ity; learn to deal with loss and with stress; set goals and de­velop time man­age­ment to achieve them; build tol­er­ance and an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of di­ver­sity.

Move to your own groove

Team sports not re­ally your thing? No prob­lem. The Nether­lands has many choices for in­di­vid­ual ex­er­cises and sports. Coun­sel­lor Claire Bo­ers »

keeps phys­i­cally ac­tive with belly dancing, disco dancing, yoga and tai chi. She rec­om­mends some kind of move­ment to all her pa­tients, and notes that ev­ery­one ben­e­fits from car­dio­vas­cu­lar ex­er­cise es­pe­cially. She notes that ex­er­cise helps those suf­fer­ing from anx­i­ety, for ex­am­ple, since the con­di­tion is so closely re­lated to breath­ing. “Breath­ing has a lot to do with how we feel,” says Claire. “We hold onto lots of ten­sion with our breath. Yoga helps us to be more aware of our body sen­sa­tions and our breath­ing.” Through her own prac­tice, Claire has found that yoga of­fers her a very deep re­lax­ation that she can’t get any­where else. She’s also a fan of tai chi. “Tai chi is slow. It’s fluid, grace­ful and calm, and it helps with your strength and flex­i­bil­ity. I’m learn­ing to fo­cus on my body. Be­fore I felt dis­so­ci­ated, not grounded. These classes have made me feel con­nected with the ground.” Claire also ad­vo­cates mar­tial arts. “There’s great value in mar­tial arts: self-con­trol, self-dis­ci­pline, self­de­fence. Ev­ery­body’s dif­fer­ent. Some want to go for strength, some for the com­pet­i­tive el­e­ment... Ei­ther way you get some­thing out of it.” Fi­nally, whether it’s in­di­vid­ual or team sports, re­mem­ber that “ex­er­cise and sports are ben­e­fi­cial to you from child­hood through to se­nior life,” as Kata­rina says. There’s al­ways room for per­sonal de­vel­op­ment. «

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