Published 09 Nov 2023
If you’re still buzzing from the Tilly fever that swept the nation this winter, or utterly absorbed in the current AFLW season, you might be feeling inspired to pick up a new team sport. In this article we explore the health and wellbeing benefits of being involved in group sports, how to overcome common barriers for women and how to reduce your risk of injuries.
Health benefits of exercise
Physical activity improves both our mind and body health and helps reduce the risk of chronic disease. Immediate benefits of moderate exercise – defined as exercising while being able to talk, but not sing a tune – can include reduced blood pressure and feelings of anxiety, and increased sleep quality. In the longer term, regular exercise can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease, depression, dementia, and certain cancers, improve bone strength, balance and coordination, and help with weight management, which has its own health benefits.
Common barriers to exercise
For many women these can include a lack of time or motivation, confidence, accessibility, and/or resources. Women are also still more likely than men to be taking on caring responsibilities for children or elderly relatives and struggling to prioritise their own exercise over family commitments. On top of this, a woman’s capacity to engage in high-impact sports can be impacted by certain stages in their life, including pre-natal and post-partum periods, midlife and menopause.
Team sports provide an opportunity to overcome many of these barriers, including:
Lack of time
Contrary to popular belief, sports don’t have to take up a lot of your time. For most organised group sports – particularly at an amateur level – you may only be looking at one to two training sessions a week on top of a weekly ‘game day’ during the season. Considering that the Australian Department of Health recommends 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate physical activity per week for adults aged 18 to 64 years, this can be a great way to ensure you’re hitting this mark.
If scheduling time in a busy routine is an issue for you, speak with your partner or family about the importance of prioritising exercise for your own health and wellbeing and encourage them to do the same. Organised sports usually have set times for training which can make it easier to plan your week around them.
Nothing helps boost motivation like being a part of a team and working towards a common goal. If you’re prone to making excuses about why you can’t exercise and often talk yourself out of a session, ask a teammate to get to training or games with you; that way you’ll have someone to hold you accountable and make it harder to flake.
Surrounding yourself with teammates and others interested in maintaining an active lifestyle can do wonders for your own health, self-confidence, and esteem. Team sports foster a shared sense of purpose, camaraderie, and community, which in turn have positive effects for your mental wellbeing. And who knows, you could be playing alongside a new life-long friend – getting involved in team sports is a great way to socialise, meet new people and reduce feelings of loneliness.
Organised sport is relatively prevalent in Australia, particularly for popular women’s team sports such as netball, soccer, hockey, Aussie rules, tennis, and basketball. The Australian Sports Commission has also partnered with 38 national sporting organisations and national sporting organisations for people with a disability (NSODs) to help more Australians connect with sport. Once you’ve chosen the sport that you’d like to get involved with, browse their website to find a club near you.
The beauty of team sports is that most of them can be played in public facilities (indoor or outdoor) with little equipment – for many, you’ll simply need the space and a ball! It also doesn’t have to be expensive unless you’re considering pennant golf or polo.
Different life stages
The Australian government’s recommendations for exercise differs for women who are pregnant, so it is important to familiarise yourself with this advice and to speak with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns. It is also recommended to avoid sports and activities that have an increased risk of abdominal trauma, contact or collision.
When starting or returning to team sport after giving birth, you may notice changes in your pelvic floor strength. This is very common and one in three women who has given birth will experience incontinence issues. These can make themselves known when you exercise, or sneeze. Learn more about your pelvic floor and speak to a physiotherapist about any concerns.
Many, but not all, team sports are contact sports and some like Aussie rules, hockey, soccer and rugby are deemed as high impact. These types of sports have a higher risk of associated injuries to joints, bones, muscles, breasts and the brain.
When engaging in high-impact sports it is important to take the necessary precautions to reduce the likelihood of injury, such as:
- following the rules of the game
- keeping up your training schedule to maintain your physical health and fitness
- wearing protective gear such as padding to guard ribs, breasts and joints, mouthguards and eyewear
- always warm up and cool down before and after exercise
Regardless of whether you’re exercising individually or in a group, all forms of physical activity carry the risk of injury. If you’re starting a new sport or exercise, and unsure about how your body will react, speak with an exercise physiotherapist before you get started to check your fitness level, discuss helpful hints for avoiding injuries and set realistic goals for you.
You might be familiar with mouthguards, helmets, knee pads and cups, but did you know there are now more protective options designed especially for women? Zena Sport specialises in women’s impact performance vests which provide padding to protect the ribs and breasts and reduce the risk of injury during high-impact sports.
'I didn’t expect the garment to be as lightweight as what it is. I thought it would be heavier. Once you get into a game you know it’s there, but you don’t necessarily notice it.' Renee Garing, AFLW Geelong Cats