The impacts of sport on psychological variables

Mazdak Pourjafar

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Nasrin Hajizadesabegh

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Islamic Azad University, Roodhen branch, Tehran  


The extant paper aims at studying the impact of sports on psychological variables. Due to its fruitful effects, it is important to pay attention to sports in all classes of the society. Physical activities increase physical power and at the time of difficulties and anxiety increase human’s abilities for tolerating these conditions. When an individual is healthier, the heart, the lung and the livers work better and the person will have better physical activities in all aspects. The present paper is a review study regarding the impacts of sport on psychological variables.


Various studies have revealed that sport is a useful mental health as well as physical health. Sports reduce anxiety and depression, increase self-confidence and improve self-concept. In childhood and adolescence, playing sports is a way to release the cumulative energy. Participating in sports help them socialize, learn different abilities, make friends and have healthy relationship with their peers. A recent research in the US indicated that 65% of youngsters claimed that sports do not let them be addicted to alcohol or drugs (Simon, 1999).Intense sport activities result into release of endorphins. Since endorphins are similar to drug compounds, playing sports can be substitute formisusing drugs.

Sport practices result into release of a growth factor called Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This makesneuronsresistant todamageshinders diseases like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson's disease.Blood flow increases inthe brain due to sport practices. Increase in blood flow results into better nutrition of neurons and hinders narrowing of vessels in brain. These impacts hinder amnesia in old ages.

In a research, four teenagers aged 12-18 diagnosed with major depression had to walk and run for an hour three times a week during 65 days. These teenagers answered a depression questionnaire before the test, after 29 days, after 50 days and after 65 days. The obtained results revealed that depression was decreased.

In 1995, in a study done in UniversityofOregon, 354 college students were studied regarding the impact of sport on depression. First, it was examined how much time they have spent playing sports during the last three months. Students were classified into three groups: athletes (three sessions of sport activities in a week), active (one or two sessions a week) and passive (less than a session of sport activities in a week). Then they all answer a questionnaire regarding depression. The group known as athletes reported the less amount of depression.

Another research was done by McCann and Holmes regarding a group of students who suffered from depression. The obtained results revealed that playing sports in open air can remarkably reduce depression. Students were randomly categorized into three different groups: aerobic exercise, relaxation and control group. Results indicated that playing sports was the most important factor in reduction of depression (McCann & Holmes, 1984).

In the Older Americans Act, a research was done in Florida. The participants were more than a hundred old women. The results indicated that yoga can decrease anxiety and anger and can increase self-esteem. In this research participants were randomly divided into experimental and control group. Rosenberg’s self-esteem scale and state trait auxiety inventory were used in this research.

In TheCleveland Foundation, a research was done on 70 people aged more than 55 who suffered from weak to average anxiety. The results displayed impacts of yoga on psychological variables. The participants were randomly divided into two groups. A group did simple yoga practices two times a week for 12 weeks. The other group spent the same time doing sport practices accompanied with music. Anxiety, depression, fatigue, anger and sleeping disease of these people were studied before and after doing exercises and also 12 weeks after them. The obtained results showed that the group which did simple yoga practices were better in all the above-mentioned terms compared to the other group.

A research was done in Kent State University on 87 students. Students were randomly divided into four groups.Two groups practiced swimming, a group practiced yoga and the other group did not do sport exercises. Students took personality tests before and after doing practices. Results indicated that students who did swimming or yoga practices experienced less depression and anxiety. Boys who practiced yoga experienced less anxiety, depression and anger. There was no significant difference between girls who practiced yoga and girls who practiced swimming.

Endorphin hypothesis

Endorphins are a group of chemical materials that release from neurons of brain and have impacts similar to drugs. Sport exercises particularly running increases release of endorphin. Also, drinking alcohol or eating some foods lead to release of these materials. Naloxone reduces the efficiency of endorphin and reduces the impacts of sports on attitude. Therefore, it can be said that the impacts of sports on attitude is due to release of endorphin.

Catecholamine hypothesis

Catecholaminesare a group of chemical materials including norepinephrine, epinephrine and dopamine. They act as transformers of chemical materials. Norepinephrine and dopamine have impacts on memory. Regular practices increase the release of these compounds and make them increase in blood plasma (Kety& Brown, 1973, 1966).Increase in release of transformers lead to improvement of memory.

The impacts of sports on memory

Researches done by Dr. Oliffrevealed that elderlies who jogged on treadmill three times a week for an hour during four months had better memory and reactions. Researches reveal that jogging, walking, and dancing also improve the memory and reactions of elderlies(Oliff, Berchtold, Isackson& Cotman, 1998).

Researchers figured out that elderlies who did strength and flexibility exercises for an hour three times a week during four months had better performance in memory tests. Though this improvement happened more in aerobic exercises, researches revealed that no sport is superior in terms of affecting memory.

Another research was done in Japan. 827 elderly people aged more than 65 years were studied for seven years. The obtained results revealed that elderly people who did sport exercises each day and had physical activities are less affected by Alzheimer’s disease compared to elderlies who are less active. Many researchers believe that an active lifestyle make people resistant toward Alzheimer’s disease (ibid).

In another research, elderlies who recently retired were studied during four years using various cognitive tests. The obtained results revealed that cognitive abilities of these elderlies reduced in those four years. However, the scores of elderlies who participated in walking, jogging, riding bicycles and dancing did not decrease in cognitive tests during these four years (ibid).

A study was done to determine the reasons of improvement of memory due to sport exercises in mice. At first, mice were divided into two groups. A group of them were allowed to run freely on the running wheel. On the contrary, the other group did not do exercises. These groups were compared and the results revealed that running mice have more cells in hippocampus area. This structure is of great importance in learning. Researchers believe that similar processes may happen in human’s brain. In other words, sport exercises may improve the structure of hippocampus in human being.

Dr. Berchtold believes that according to experimental results regarding the relation between sport exercises and memory, increase in BDNF can have positive impact on learning and memory. Dr. Berchtold believes that sport exercisesare vital for physical and mental health. It was discovered that sport exercises increase blood flow and BDNF molecules. BDNF is a type of growth factor that makes neurons of the brain resistant to damage. This molecule hinders destruction of cells due to Alzheimer’s disease or Parkinson's disease. These processes may improve memory and postpone Alzheirmer’s disease (Oliff, Berchtold, Isackson&Cotman, 1998).

Yaffe, Barnes, Nevitt, Lui andCovinsky (2001) assert that sport exercises can postpone reduction of cognitive abilities that happens due to old age. Sport exercises can keep the brain young and active by increasing the growth of neurons and expanding the relations between cells.

The impact of sport exercises on neurons is to increase blood flow in brain. It results into growth factors and hinders strokes. Sport exercises can lead to release of norepinephrine, serotoninand dopamine.

Yaffee studied a group of women aged more than 65 years during 8 years regarding their physical activities including running, riding bicycle, gardening and walking. Cognitive tests were done regarding memory, numeral computing, articulation, attention and other health factors including learning, social position, depression and smoking. The obtained results indicated that sport exercises have direct impacts on cognitive performance. Women who participated more in the activities experienced less mental disorders (ibid).

Sport exercises cause increase in cells of brain particularly in hippocampus area. This structure is used for transferring information from short term memory to long term memory. Experiments indicated that mice that ran 4-6 miles a day had more neurons in their hippocampus areas. The mice that ran found it easier to learn mazes. Even when the mice that ran were selected among a species which was weak in learning, sport exercises increase their ability of running. It was also observed that running hinders worsening of performance due to old age (ibid).

It seems that whether participants like the exercise or not has an impact on the results. When a group of mice were asked to swim instead of running, no change was observed in their learning. Since they did not like to swim, the mental strain hinders any sort of positive changes in learning or memory (ibid).

BDNF molecule resulted into increase in ability of mice in terms of learning. This molecule can support the life of neurons and their optimal performance. The number of these molecules is increased after doing exercises.  Researchers have figured out intense learning opportunities, social interactions and physical activities have an important role in increasing the number of cells in brains of different animals and even human beings (ibid).

According to results of Society of Neuro Science, sport exercise can be effective in improvement of many diseases. It seems that improvement of many disease of neuro system happens because of increase in cells of the brain. Recent researches revealed that brain keeps producing new cells during its lifetime. Even without new neurons the structure of the brain may change because Glia cells that have a role in nutrition of neurons and elimination of waste and toxic material can replicate (Kalat, 1995).


McCann, I. L., & Holmes, D. S. (1984). Influence of aerobic exercise on depression. Journal of personality and social psychology, 46(5), 1142.

Oliff, H. S., Berchtold, N. C., Isackson, P., &Cotman, C. W. (1998).Exercise-induced regulation of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) transcripts in the rat hippocampus. Molecular Brain Research, 61(1), 147-153.

Yaffe, K., Barnes, D., Nevitt, M., Lui, L. Y., &Covinsky, K. (2001). A prospective study of physical activity and cognitive decline in elderly women: women who walk. Archives of internal medicine, 161(14), 1703-1708.

Kalat, J. W. (1995). Biological psychology. USA: Brooks/Cole Publishing Company.

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