6 Ways Our Mental Health Needs Sport

The importance of empathy heals our minds

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The importance of sport and games is pivotal to our human health and overall existence.

Sport and games allow us to exercise our emotional feelings in a healthy manner. It sustains our lust for human emotion and connection. They bring us a sense of belonging and allow us to feel a sense of achievement when winning and victory occurs.

Paul MacLean put forward the triune brain in the 1960s. This was based on three areas of our brains. The basal ganglia, the limbic system, and the neo-cortex are the areas of your brain that address your needs to have a fight-or-flight survival response and similarly, primal responses, emotional, and rational thinking also. Evidence has since shown that it’s not as cut and dry as this, but, still, it’s a good way to begin to understand how evolution has played a part in your brain’s development and how critically important our emotions are to us as human beings.

Anthropologist Paul Ekman felt that there were six basic human emotions that we all were capable of feeling at any time. Although these have been disputed, they still seem as good a place as any to understand our relationship with sports and games.

These six emotions are fear, anger, disgust, surprise, joy, and sadness.


All human beings are vulnerable to being fearful. In the First World War from 1914–1918 fear was a constant. Armies used it to plan battles, and people suffered psychiatrically because of the issues that war brought over a prolonged period of time. Yet, during that period of time sport was very popular with the armies that were at war. Swimming, tennis, and athletics gave soldiers a medium to compete and a welcome distraction from their official duties.

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In the present day sport and games allow us to challenge our fear. For example, if we are overweight we may decide to join a gym and begin to commit to a training plan so that we can try to lose weight. Putting yourself out in the open with other more superior athletes challenges your mindset to overcome your fear of being seen as an overweight person and being unable to exercise in the same ways as others.


Anger breeds violence.

There have been two world wars where battles aplenty have shown that in the end, violence does not work. Violence can only lead to pain, injury, or death. It brings nothing proactive to us in the long term but it can make us feel alive at the time of showing aggression.

Sport though allows you to positively use that aggression in a disciplined manner. It permits us to channel our energies with rules in place to provide a fair test for others that we compete against.


When we are disgusted it often brings about disappointment. This can linger within our emotional brain and trigger other base emotions too. If we feel one negative emotion such as disgust it can replicate other emotions that are unhelpful for us to keep in. This can cause sickness or ill health.

Of course, disgust can also make us outburst to others and this can harm their feelings also.

This is why sport and games give us a welcome reprieve and a place to channel our feelings. As there have so many skills in these sport and games, they demand that we perform at the highest level before we can ever hope to win. Yet sport and games will give us a chance to compete again the following year even if we’ve been disgusted by losing or not doing our best. By looking forward again, we can set about improving our skills so that we can begin to redeem ourselves in the future.


Life is full of surprises.

Being surprised can feed into our memories and this, in turn, provides us with stories. Stories force us to communicate with others and this brings about entertainment and joy.

Sport and games, although having winners and losers, can surprise people from game to game as scores, tackles, performances of note, and results that were initially unimagined give us plenty to marvel at.


As surprise can bring joy so too can the negative emotions that we have felt in the past. It has been proved that if humans are regular winners in sports and games they can use this to motivate themselves or to continue to win in the future. But if a team is used to losing they can also motivate themselves to have a greater appetite to win.

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Either way, joy is the result of that motivation.

Joy brings people together and this feeling can replicate among the masses and sustain in people’s memory if and when they choose to revisit it.


Sadness is a central part of life. Even as small children we often feel sad. If we fall and hurt ourselves while playing a sport we can cry because we are sad. When we experience the loss of a game for the first time we can feel an extreme feeling that makes us think life is very cruel.

As life goes on we mature and we adapt to the sadness as it comes our way. Being thankful for the happier times comfort us when sadness naturally occurs from time to time.

Sport and games have losers and quite often losers feel extreme sadness when they fail to win. Watching the winning team feel joy can be tough, and the feeling of sadness can linger but as sport and games have regular competitions it gives sportspeople another chance to challenge themselves and feel joy once more.

Our emotions aid out health:

All of our human emotions involve other people.

If we are fearful it’s usually of another person. Although we can be angry and disgusted with ourselves this usually passes. Anger and disgust toward another individual or group of people can last a long time and this feeling can weigh us down. Sadness too can get inside us and provide us with a feeling of being unmotivated to be positive.

All of the negative emotions can fester within our beings and dictate our feelings towards our mental and physical health over time.

Opposite to your negative emotions are more positive ones of feeling surprised and being joyful.

Winning is the aim of all sports and games.

Sure, the enjoyment that you can feel during competition can make you feel happier, but winning is the ultimate joy, and it can also provide a sense of surprise too.

Once victory is safe, the resultant celebrations bring a sense of prolonged joy. Ultimately, this is carried out with others. Being able to celebrate with family, friends, and supporters of your sport or game mean that there is a communal feeling of joy that changes an atmosphere of a club, organization, team, or individual competitor.

This is why empathy is the ultimate aim of all sport and games and how it is central to our overall health as humans.

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Forbes, INC. & Entrepreneur Magazines, CBS, & NBC Featured, Dr. Conor Is The World’s Leading High-Performance Neuro Socio-Psychologist & Co-Authored 4 Books

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Dr. Conor Hogan Ph.D.

Forbes, INC. & Entrepreneur Magazines, CBS, & NBC Featured, Dr. Conor Is The World’s Leading High-Performance Neuro Socio-Psychologist & Co-Authored 4 Books