This year’s Olympic Games is full of strong, powerful women athletes. Allyson Felix is setting the bar high and inspiring moms and women around the world. Jordan Chiles has been unstoppable in every competition leading up to the Games and demonstrating her nerves of steel. Simone Malone is capturing hearts with her hard-fought and hard-won spot in the 50-meter freestyle. And of course, the GOAT (Greatest of All Time), Simone Biles, is captivating enough to make even the most inflexible of us convinced we can — and should — get outside and get moving.
It’s a good thing we have these outstanding female athletes for women of all ages to look up to and emulate. The benefits of girls participating in sports is a long and impressive list, including:
- Young girls who play sports and are active are more likely to stay active later in life.
- Healthy habits, including exercise and healthy eating, are established at a younger age and last into adulthood.
- Female athletes have higher self-esteem, more confidence and perform better in school.
- Girls who play sports are less likely to become pregnant as teenagers.
- Female athletes develop leadership skills and are more likely to be in positions of leadership in school and later in life.
- Regular exercise improves overall physical health, including weight management and reducing the risk of chronic conditions (which are increasing in adolescents).
“These are all great benefits of girls participating in sports — but it’s also just fun to play,” states Courtney Gleason, MD, sports medicine provider at Emory Healthcare. “The memories, friendships and experiences girls can have playing on a team are something they will always look back on with joy.”
Unfortunately, not all girls who start playing a sport will stick to it throughout high school. In fact, it’s far more common for girls to drop out of competitive sports long before their male counterparts. The Aspen Institute Project Play surveyed about 13,000 high school athletes and found that 32 out of 100 student-athletes in eighth grade will quit before they are in 12th grade. Those numbers are even higher among female athletes:
- 64% of female basketball players will quit by 12th grade, compared to just 36% for males
- 53% of female soccer players will quit by 12th grade, compared to 31% of males
- 42% of female lacrosse players will quit by 12th grade, compared to just 13% of males
“We’re not sure why female athletes drop out of sports at such a higher rate,” says Dr. Gleason. “It could be a number of different reasons, and we’re actually conducting research now to figure out what’s happening and how we can close that gap.”
Dr. Gleason also underscores that if you were a female athlete and the Olympics have you eager to play sports again, or you’re a woman motivated to make physical activity a priority watching the phenomenal athletes at the Olympics, now can be your time.
“It’s never too late to get back to what you love or start something new,” she encourages. “It just takes a little discipline and dedication to build a habit for something with so many great physical and mental benefits.”
Why Physical Activity is Important for Women
It’s safe to say that we know regular exercise is good for our bodies. After all, it can help with countless areas — from weight management, and improved heart health to decreased risk of serious chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension.
Regular physical activity is also good for your mental and social health. Women who regularly exercise tend to experience less depression and anxiety. Other benefits include:
- Manages hormone-driven mood swings
- Prevents bone loss and osteoporosis
- Improves sleep (Women tend to have more difficulty falling and staying asleep.)
- Controls joint swelling and pain from arthritis
How to Get Started with (or Back Into) Physical Activity
If you’re ready to get moving again — or back on the field of your favorite sport — Dr. Gleason shares her advice for creating an exercise plan that’s fun and sustainable.
1. Start Small
“It can be overwhelming to add something else to your already full plate”, says Dr. Gleason. She encourages women to do what makes sense for them.
“Ask yourself what is realistic for you,” she says. “Is it 10 minutes, five days a week or 20 minutes three days a week? Start from a place that’s attainable. You can add from that as you see the benefits and establish the habit.”
The third annual Women’s Sports and Wellness Conference, scheduled for Saturday, August 7, 2021, includes a panel called “How to Change Your Life with 10 Minutes of Pilates A Day.” It’s those simple commitments that can add up to a lifelong healthy habit. (See the complete agenda for the Women’s Sports and Wellness Conference or register online.)
2. Make it a Priority
Staying dedicated and committed—even just to your 10 minutes a day—does require it to become a priority in your life. It might even take a few sacrifices on your part. Maybe it’s a small one like switching your morning scroll through social media to a morning stroll around your neighborhood. Set yourself up for success by
- Scheduling your workouts on your calendar or family calendar.
- Trying to exercise at the same time each day.
- Telling a friend or family member about your goal.
- Sharing your successes and even setbacks.
- Encouraging friends to ask you about your progress.
- Inviting a friend or family member to join you.
- Signing up for a class or joining a recreational league in your community.
“There are so many wonderful and fun resources in the Atlanta area,” shares Dr. Gleason. “There’s a rec league for just about every sport and fitness studios offering fun classes. Spend a little time searching for the right opportunity for you and then make it an important part of your day or week.”
3. Stay the Course
Exercise is hard work. It can be sweaty, uncomfortable and strenuous. It’s also a rewarding, powerful and endorphin-inducing experience. If (or when) you get discouraged, remind yourself why exercise is important. Maybe it’s a specific goal like a number on a scale or maybe it’s just because you miss the camaraderie of being on a team. Write down that goal and keep it handy when you’re feeling less than thrilled about showing up for your next workout.
It might also be that you just need to try something new.
“Trying new activities or sports is like reading a book. If you’re 30 pages into a book and you don’t like it, read a different book. The same goes for if you are just struggling through your kickboxing class or realize that you just don’t like running. It’s okay to try something else,” encourages Dr. Gleason.
4. Know When to Slow Down
It can be easy to go full out as you start your new training program — especially if you’re thinking your body can still do what it did in high school or college. And, on the other hand, when you’re new to exercise, it can be hard to know what’s an injury a doctor needs to look at and when you may need to back off a little.
“It’s normal to feel a little sore when you start a new exercise program,” says Dr. Gleason. “If you start to experience aches or pains, decrease the intensity of your program — but still make time for exercise. For example, walk 10 minutes instead of running 10 minutes. After a few days of decreased intensity, you can get back to what you were doing. And if you still feel pain, it’s time to see a doctor.”
Getting Started (Again)
Regular physical activity is a wonderful way to stay strong and healthy. If you have questions about starting an exercise program — or getting back into the sport you enjoy — talk to your primary care provider or reach out to the team at Emory Women’s Sports Medicine program. We’re here to help women of all ages and abilities build healthy, active lives around their favorite sports and physical activities. Learn more about our program or call us today at 404-7STRONG (404-778-7664).