The Benefits of Playing Sports Aren’t Just Physical!


Sports participation in the United States has reached record levels, and high school-level sports participation continues to rise. In fact, the National Federation of State High School Associations estimates that more than 7.6 million high school students (over 55% of all students) played sports during the 2010-2011 academic year.

As orthopaedic surgeons, we are all too familiar with injuries that can occur in sports. But the benefits far outweight the potential for injury. Since we are wrapping up National Physical Fitness and Sports Month, the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine would like to focus on the many positive benefits of sports – and encourage Americans to participate.

The physical benefits of competitive sports are the most obvious. Much attention has been given to the role of sports and exercise in decreasing the rates of obesity in our nation’s youth. While lower body mass among athletes is certainly a desirable marker, it is not the only purported advantage of the regular exercise that comes with sports participation. Athletes experience lower rates of diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as improved cardiovascular and pulmonary function.

However, the benefits of sports are not simply limited to physical health. Here are just a few reasons to consider playing sports or encouraging your children to play sports.

Social Benefits

A study published in Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine reported that out of 14,000 high school atheletes, the ones who regularly played sports were less likely to use drugs. Likewise, a survey performed by the National Household Survey of Drug Abuse showed that students who played sports were less likely to have smoked cigarettes or used drugs and were more likely to disapprove of others using them. Also, the Women’s Sports Foundation has stated that female high school athletes are 80% less likely to become pregnant than non-athletes. 

Academic Benefits

Studies perfomed among students in multiple states – including Wyoming, Iowa, and Colorado – have shown that playing sports can actually increase success in the classroom. Various data demonstrate that athletes have higher grade point averages, higher standardized test scores, better attendance, lower dropout rates, and a better chance of going to college.

Career Benefits

A survey of individuals at the level of executive Vice President of 75 Fortune 500 companies showed that 95% of them played sports in high school. While it might be hard to argue that sports participation could guarantee higher incomes, promotions, and better jobs, the leadership skills and development of teamwork, hard work, and determination might help prepare students to be leaders at work and in their communities later in life.

While it is important for adults to be aware of the risks of injuries in various sports, both for themselves and for their kids, it is important to remember that there are many great reasons to play them as well! How are you encouraging your family and friends to get involved in sports?