Sports teach teamwork, discipline, time management, and sacrifice among many other life skills. But now researchers are finding that teens who play sports are less stressed and have better mental health. Canadian researchers published a recent study, which showed that sports teams could be used as a protective treatment against stress and depression in early adulthood. 

"There is surprisingly little known about school sport, so we can only speculate as to the unique effects, but we suspect it might be due to school sport providing adolescents with opportunities to bond with other students, feel connected to their school, interact with their peers and coaches, thus, really providing a social and active environment," said lead author Dr. Catherine Sabiston, of the University of Toronto, in a press release.

Researchers focused on school sports in order to target the population, and see how well the mental state of teens from eighth to 12th grade lasted during and after graduation. Nearly 850 student basketball, soccer, track and field, wrestling, and gymnastics players were surveyed. Three years after graduation they were asked how frequently or infrequently they experienced signs of depression, and stress levels in their life on a scale of one (poor) to five (excellent).

“It is important that school administrators recognize the importance of sport participation and physical activity," Sabiston said. "The associations we have found show a long term impact. School sport from ages 12 to 17 protects those youth from poor mental health four years later."

On all three mental health assessments of the entire body of students, those who participated in sports scored higher than non-athletes. This led researchers to conclude playing sports during crucial developmental years of adolescents significantly lowered depression symptoms, stress, and increased self-evaluated mental health.

Researchers linked feelings of accomplishment and mastery of a sports skills to a better mental state. According to Child Trends Data Bank, depression increases during adolescence and peaks in early adulthood between 18 and 29 years old, which means preventive measures are in high demand. "Single sessions of activity reduce anxiety, improve mood, and raise feelings of energy that last for several hours," said Dr. Jack Raglin, a professor in the department of kinesiology at Indiana University-Bloomington, in the release. "Long-term participation can significantly improve conditions such as clinical anxiety and depression to a degree that rivals medication, both in adults and adolescents."

Source: Jewett R, Scarapicchia T, O'Loughlin J. School Sport Participation During Adolescence and Mental Health in Early Adulthood. Journal of Adolescent Health. 2014.