The Parallel Powers of Art and Sport to Heal Body and Mind

Mental health has been called ‘the silent crisis’, hitting Africans harder than we would like to admit. On a global scale, there has been a 2 per cent rise in neuropsychiatric orders over the past decade and the rate is expected to rise significantly again by 2020. One of the most worrisome aspects of mental disease is how often it is misdiagnosed, or worse yet, not detected at all. One in five persons will suffer from a mental condition at some point in their lives; of these people, 75 per cent will have developed these conditions in their youth.

On a physiological level, we could also be doing much better than we are. Many types of diseases, traditionally present mainly in high-income countries, are increasing in African countries. Studies have shown that cardiovascular disease is alarmingly high, with heart failure, coronary artery disease, hypertension, high blood pressure and obesity, posing major risk factors for mortality. At the same time that the scientific community is beginning to collect relevant statistics regarding the prevalence and effect of chronic disease on our population, they are also looking into affordable yet effective ways of reducing our risk of both mental and physical ailments. Among these methods, the two most prominent therapies, involve sport and art. They bestow many common benefits, which include:

Art and sport aid in battling depression and anxiety:

 Persons who are facing serious issues such as addiction recovery or chronic illness, have higher rates of depression and anxiety than the general population. Those battling an addiction to drugs  face many more challenges once the initial battle of physical withdrawal are over. As they begin to consider the effects of their actions on loved ones and realise that the road to social integration and to a normal working life are wrought with challenges, they are exposed to high levels of stress, and can suffer everything from social phobia to panic attacks. Cancer patients, meanwhile, often succumb to fatigue, stress and depression after physically and mentally draining treatments like radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Studies have shown that art therapy has beneficial effects on those undergoing addiction recovery, as well as those suffering from anxiety and depression; symptoms of the latter are reduced, and stress levels decline after a guided art therapy session. Sports, too, are a powerful way to lower cortisol levels, and keep related diseases (such as heart disease and Type II diabetes) at bay.


Art and sport encourage mindfulness:

One of the most difficult tasks for many persons trying to fulfill the competing demands of work and family life, is being mindful; that is, remaining in the present and not allowing worrisome thoughts about the future or traumatic past events, to interfere with health and happiness. Art is an excellent means through which we can concentrate on a particular aim, keeping our mind on colour, texture and structure of our work, instead of allowing the mind to stray. Indeed, many artists describe a very similar sensation to that experienced by keen athletes: that of being ‘in the Zone’; enraptured by a moment of bliss in which we achieve our artistic or sporting aims in a seemingly effortless manner.


Art and sport increase our self-confidence:

Many people who feel their lives do not have value because of a traumatic childhood or a lack of restore their self-esteem through art and physical activity, especially when they discover a hidden talent they never knew they possessed. Both art and sport involve creativity, goal setting, problem solving skills, and teamwork (when group projects or team sports are involved). More importantly, they teach us to accept rejection in a non-defensive manner. The innate subjectivity of art appreciation has added value: even beginners can be inspired by groundbreaking artists such as Jackson Pollock, who found his own personal way of relating with his art and expressing himself. From a mental point of view, art can be immensely fulfilling, since an interest in the act of creation itself often leads to an interest in the lives of artists. Picasso, Dali, Van Gogh… many of the world’s most famous artists battle convention or their own inner demons, by producing something whose beauty transcended their pain.

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Free Thinker. Loud. Another inhabitant of Terra Firma. I am not your favourite person. Neither do I plan to be. But you will know my opinion. In fact, you will love it.

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