Back Back

Sport – a game changer for mental health


On World Mental Health Day, Joshua Witchard, WLV Sport Sports Scholar at the University blogs about the hidden benefits of physical activity and shares how exercise and sport can improve your mental health.

The physical health benefits of sport are clear – personal fitness improves, physical appearance changes and everyday activities such as walking upstairs are no longer a chore. This factor alone is very appealing to a lot of people; what is less clear are the hidden benefits of sport and exercise, which may be seen as even more attractive once known.

I, myself, as a player and coach of multiple sports over the years I have seen some of these hidden benefits. They are hard to spot, especially in the short-term, but gains can be amounted outside of physical wellbeing.

Mental Health

One hidden benefit is uplifting your mental health. Through sport, confidence can grow from naturally fitting into a team to learning and building a new skill, however useful it may be. Personally, I have never needed to hit a 3-point shot or score a 30-yard free kick in any situation outside of a sporting venture, but it is a great feeling to achieve this and build upon it further. Naturally, sporting activities cause the body to release the hormones of adrenaline and serotonin; Adrenaline boosts alertness and provides a feeling of energy whilst serotonin is known to stabilise mood, reduce mood swings, improve sleep and act as a hormonal anti-depressant. Levels of Cortisone go down, this is also known as the stress hormone - although it may seem contradictory to promote mental health through sport when mental toughness is so valued in athletes, it is important to note that mental health is important to maintain. Sadly, it must be said that being “mentally tough” does not make you immune to mental health issues - it does not discriminate.

Social sport

Another hidden benefit of sport is the social side of it - sport and exercise can open doors to new groups and communities. As a Sociology academic, I know the benefits of maintaining a consistent social life – one aspect which had been lost by so many within the height of the pandemic. Humans are naturally social beings, we pick up traits, skills and tips from other people, as well as making friends, connections and networks that can be so helpful (hence the common phrase, “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”).

In sport, social sport and team sports in particular, you can build these friendship groups and stay connected through this. As a sports activator, I have seen groups of people come together and meet at sessions, they enjoy themselves whilst improving at sport. Of course, the right friends and colleagues can allow people to relax – it could even provide a safe place to reflect on troubles and “open up” about hidden issues, become more comfortable with anxieties or simply take a “time out” from stresses.

One of the many wonderful things about sport is inclusivity, if you feel alone, lost or in need of something to raise you in some way - sport can help.

The university has an incredible programme, Let’s Move Wolves which can be used for these and other purposes, which covers many sports of various kinds.

Clear your mind

Sport and exercise do not have to be social to be beneficial; a run, jog or simple stroll can assist with clearing the mind. A gym can be a great place for this as they have machines and free weights to use to your contentment and physical gains, but it is not the only place individual exercise can benefit someone mentally.

Having lived in South Wales for a while now, I have found some fantastic places to investigate on walks and runs, long and short. In Wolverhampton alone, the public parks are a great place to do this, Walsall Arboretum or Telford Town Park are fantastic as well for those who are slightly further afield or on other campuses – a quick google search will display routes for walkers, hikers and joggers alike to free your mind and enjoy some places you may have never been to before now. In the Covid-19 lockdowns, people turned to exercise to get moving and to get away from anxieties and troubles, even for a brief period. Continuation of such a remedy can be beneficial, alone or in a group.

In short, the hidden benefits of sport, although obscured by lack of hindsight, are noticeable once you know what they are. Sport can be used as a hobby, a form of fitness improvement or as a relaxation and release technique from what may be holding you back. If you have never tried anything like this before, it may be a game changer or a new way to help you strategize your way through assignment anxiety; it may be a chance to develop new skills that you can take pride and confidence in, a networking and social tool or a gateway to a better and healthier life.

Josh was awarded Sports Activator of the Year at his year’s Sports Awards for his dedication and commitment for creating opportunities to develop students in physical activity and sport.

To get involved in sport during your studies click here.

For further recourses and mental health support click here.


For more information please contact the Corporate Communications Team.

Share this release