Team sports like netball, basketball and football can be a huge boost to your mental and physical health. They’re a two-in-one deal, combining social benefits like friendship and self-confidence with fitness and skill gains. If you want to get involved, you don’t have to be a serious player to reap these benefits – casual teams are just as fun and will have you excited to get up early on a Saturday morning! Discover six ways team sports can benefit your health.

1) Team Sports Boost Physical Fitness

As the NHS puts it, exercise really is a “miracle cure”. Getting active on a regular basis can significantly reduce your risk of many major illnesses. It can cut your risk of developing heart disease by 35%, your risk of type 2 diabetes by 50%, and your risk of dementia by 30%, to name a few examples. Around 150 minutes of moderately difficult exercise weekly is about what adults should be aiming for- that’s two and a half hours, the perfect amount of time for a game practice!

2) Team Sports Provides Connection and Support

Your team mates have got your back. The friendships you build through a shared love of a sport can be invaluable for your health and happiness. Valuing and nurturing friendships, especially as we age, is related to higher well-being and health.

Having those close connections also helps you avoid the negative health impacts of loneliness, which wreaks havoc on the body through long exposure to stress hormones. We’re wired to be social, and those who feel lonely all or most of the time experience increased risks of illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, depression, sleep deprivation and overall morbidity.

3) Team Sports Reduce Stress Levels

In an American study, 30% of adults self-reported as being less stressed when they stuck to a regular exercise program. Team sports can be a great place to forget your workload and vent the frustrations of the week, channelling your anger into constructive play.

4) Team Sports Come With Built-in Motivation

If you’ve got teammates counting on you, it’s much harder to say no to a practice session. Paradoxically, during stressful times, we often stop doing things that keep us calm, such as exercise. In one study, 43% of people who exercised in order to reduce their stress levels reported they would skip a session when they felt down. Being part of a team can solve this problem by holding you accountable, so next time you feel more like slumping on the couch than hitting the field, you’re much less likely to give in.

5) Team Sports Fight Depression

Regular exercise has been shown to have a small positive effect on the symptoms of depression in many people, as it can reduce stress, release endorphins and build your self-esteem.

However, team sports may have a bigger mood lifting effect than exercising alone. The exercise combined with the social benefits of playing in a team, such as friendship and a sense of belonging and purpose may also combat symptoms of depression. An Australian study found that women’s participation in club sports (involving team play) was a predictor for higher levels of life satisfaction and mental health scores than in women who either went to the gym or exercised alone through walking.

Another study found that participants who played team sport rather than exercising alone had on average higher levels of life satisfaction and long term happiness.

6) Team Sports Build Self Confidence

Team sport is a valuable place to explore and develop your social skills and abilities, such as working in a team, leadership, and the physical skill involved in playing well. This growth can spur higher self-esteem, as well as pride when your team does well. Healthy self-esteem is an important part of overall mental health.

If you’re considering a new exercise program, you’d do well to take a look at a team sport. They combine physical and mental health benefits – not to mention it’s much more fun to drag yourself along to practice when all your friends have to get up early too!

If you’re concerned about your health or recovering from an injury that might affect your safety when playing sport, consult a GP before beginning a new exercise program.