Do You Believe Girls Should Play Sports? So do we. There are many reasons why we should collectively motivate girls to embrace sports, including those traditionally dominated by boys, so that young women can also rip the many physical and psychological benefits that will help them live a healthier, more fulfilling life.
Read on and learn more about why it is worth it to enable girls in your family and in the community to engage in sports.
Overarching Benefits of Physical Activity for Women: A report by the Women in Sports Foundation, “Her Life Depends on It” – co-authored by a team of experts from several disciplines, including epidemiology, exercise physiology, kinesiology, psychology and sociology – highlights the following as key benefits of girls participation in sports:
- Prevention of chronic diseases later in life, from heart disease and cancer, to osteoporosis and dementia.
- Reduced risk of substance abuse
- Safer and healthier sexual behaviors with better ownership of a woman’s own reproductive health.
- Improved mental health and well-being, from low suicide propensity to overall better body image.
- Academic and social fitness, for improved overall school performance, as well as specific proficiency in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) disciplines, which may afford young women a more rewarding career.
- Lifelong athletic engagement at many levels, including a wider horizon of career opportunities in the sports and wellness sector.
Playing Sports Improves School Grades, Career Outlook: Academic achievement appears to be related to a girl’s access to sports. The confidence a young woman gains in a pool, a basketball court or a soccer field can boost her sense of self, ability to play in a team environment, and goal setting skills. Research has shown that young female athletes generally have higher academic test scores and are more likely to graduate from college than their peers who are not physically active. Girls who play high school sports significantly outperform non-athletic girls in academic subjects such as science and math, which tend to be dominated by boys. This suggests that participating in sports gives girls the confidence to compete on a more equal footing in the classroom with boys.
Health Benefits and Associated Cost Savings: Girls often drop out of sports around age 14, at about twice the rate of boys. This can translate into weight gain at an early age, which in turn increases the risk for obesity, diabetes and several other long-term health issues. According to the American College of Sports Medicine young females are at greater risk for not getting enough physical activity compared to young males. But it is critical to foster a culture of regular exercise, both for the health of each individual and the financial well-being of our nation.
There are substantial savings associated with enabling women to be physically active, according to the Women’s Sports Foundation’s “Her Life Depends on It” report. The cost of diseases and conditions that are responsible for the majority of women mortality in the U.S., and which can be prevented with regular physical activities, is estimated as follows:
- Cardiovascular disease: $315.4 billion is the sum of direct and indirect costs of cardiovascular disease and stroke (American Heart Association 2010 data)
- Cancer: $216 billion (National Institutes of Health 2009 data)
- Obesity-related diseases: $113.9 billion (National Institutes of Health)
- Diabetes: $245 billion (American Diabetes Association 2012 data)
- Osteoporosis: national annual expenses associated with care and related fractures are estimated at $17 billion (National Osteoporosis Foundation data, with costs projected to rise by almost 50% by 2025)
- Alzheimer’s Disease: $203 billion (Alzheimer’s Association, 2013 estimates)
- Tobacco, alcohol and illicit drug use: the combined annual cost is $558.8 billion (Centers for Disease Control’s and Office of National Drug Control Policy’s data).
- Sexually transmitted diseases: $16 billion (Centers for Disease Control)
Think of these numbers in terms of the grave social costs they impose on families and communities, but also on our nation’s competitiveness, and how prevention would free up resources that could be allocated toward education or cleaner energy.
Improving Opportunities for Low-Income Women and Minorities: Females from low-income socioeconomic backgrounds and women of color generally have limited access to sports facilities, classes and equipment, and often lack the aura of support for their endeavors that can make a difference. This is an unfavorable combination of factors, which ultimately affects women’s health and their chances of success in life. At the Y we strive to include everyone and to offer every person access to physical activities and academic enrichment programs. Through financial assistance, supported largely via our Annual Campaign, we contribute to giving young women from low-income and minority neighborhoods access to sports and a healthy, rewarding future. When you invest in programs that facilitate women’s access to all educational opportunities, you are also helping save on healthcare costs and better manage our nation’s resources. Consider donating to the Y’s Annual Campaign as a way to help create a level playing field.
Confidence for Life: Emotional and psychological fitness depend largely on a person’s involvement in physical activity. Young women who are involved in sports will also likely build families that are fitter and healthier, and motivate their kids and family members to conduct a lifestyle that includes regular exercise.
Keeping Balance and the Female Athlete Triad: As in every aspect of life, even the most beneficial activities can have downsides if not undertaken with a healthy approach. In the case of female sports, an energy deficit situation can emerge when girls fall into the so-called “female athlete triad”, a condition that in its most severe forms includes eating disorders, amenorrhea and osteoporosis. This phenomenon occurs when young women athletes – intentionally or unintentionally – intake less energy through food than the amount they expend in physical activities. Eating disorders may be due to heavy training schedules, poor knowledge of nutrition and/or lack of adequate food sources throughout the day. This in turn may cause menstrual irregularities and bone loss, and lead to osteoporosis later in life. Maintaining the right equilibrium between calorie expenditure and intake, as well as the right balance across different activities in a young woman’s life is critical. Family and community play a significant role in helping keep a healthy balance across school priorities, participation in sports and social interactions. Gender-conscious approaches to women training are also important, in order to seize all of the benefits of team sports and physical activities, while reducing the risks of injuries and concussions.
Support Them Along the Way: Make a point of giving girls wide access to sports opportunities, enthusiastically support them in working toward their dreams, and be ready to offer them a safety net. Young women should be able to rely on a protected harbor where they feel at ease anchoring now and then to share their feelings – ambitions and anxieties alike – and to source fresh winds that will power the pursuit of their life goals. Consider being a lighthouse of inspiration and support for your young women in your community. Learn about opportunities to volunteer and be a mentor at the Y.