Benefits of LGBTQIA+ Team Sports and Group Exercise

Staying physically active is one of the most helpful things you can do to live a long, healthy life. Physical activity keeps your heart healthy and supports your mental health. However, physical activity doesn’t have to mean grueling exercise routines at the gym by yourself.

Physical activity refers to anything that gets your body moving. It could be participating in team sports, but it can also be taking walks or going on a hike with friends. It can even involve simply playing actively with kids or pets.

The best way to stay active is to have fun doing activities you enjoy, whether alone or with others. Team sports can be a great way to move your muscles and build endurance while feeling a sense of belonging. For LGBTQIA+ people, activity partners or playing team sports can be an especially great way to connect with found family.

A range of team sports and physical group activities are available for every ability level and body type. No matter what your situation is or what disabilities you might have, finding ways to stay active can improve your overall health, including mental health.

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LGBTQIA+ Health Disparities

Research has shown that healthy lifestyle behaviors are less common among LGBTQIA+ people than among straight people. We call these differences in lifestyle behaviors disparities. An example of a lifestyle disparity would be a difference in activity levels.

A major reason for these lifestyle disparities is stress from discrimination and stigma. Other barriers to healthy lifestyle behaviors that LGBTQIA+ people face include:

  • Less financial security.
  • Less health care access.
  • Social rejection.

Less access to opportunities for staying healthy takes its toll on LGBTQIA+ populations. For example, heart disease risk factors tend to be more common among LGBTQIA+ individuals. They’re also more likely to experience mental health conditions and to use tobacco, alcohol, and other substances.

Across their lifespan, LGBTQIA+ people have a higher risk of many other health problems:

  • Chronic conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and obesity.
  • Disabilities.
  • Increased stigma.
  • Greater risk of being a victim of abuse or crimes.
  • Mental distress and health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
  • Stress.
  • Suicidal thoughts or attempts.

These health problems mostly come from discrimination and the social stigma that LGBTQIA+ people regularly face. But, people can take steps to offset the negative effects of this discrimination and prejudice.

Participating in team sports or other group exercise can improve health while offering a sense of acceptance and belonging. It’s important to recognize that it’s possible for LGBTQIA+ people to find safe and welcoming spaces to engage in physical activity with others.

What Are the Benefits of LGBTQIA+ Physical Activity?

Daily exercise offers both short-term and long-term benefits for mental and physical health. For example, an immediate benefit of physical activity is a “rush” of good feelings from endorphins. Endorphins are hormones the brain releases during exercise that lessen pain.

Other short-term benefits of moderate or vigorous physical activity include:

  • Improved sleep.
  • Reduced anxiety.
  • Reduced blood pressure.
  • Reduced depression symptoms.

Long-term benefits of regular physical activity include:

  • Ability to live independently for longer periods.
  • Improved balance and coordination.
  • Improved bone health.
  • Improved flexibility.
  • Improved thinking and concentration in the brain.
  • Improved well-being.
  • Longer lifespan.
  • More efficient metabolism.
  • Reduced risk of dementia in older age, including Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Reduced risk of depression symptoms.
  • Reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
  • Reduced risk of many different cancers.
  • Reduced risk of weight gain.
  • Stronger heart health.

Benefits of LGBTQIA+ Team Sports

Any kind of exercise, even done alone, can improve mental and physical health, but participating in physical activities with other people can have even greater benefits. Those benefits are especially true for people who have experienced trauma, including discrimination.

For example, a 2019 study compared the mental health outcomes of adults who had a history of traumatic childhood experiences. These adults had better mental health if they participated in team sports than if they didn’t. They also had less depression and anxiety than adults with traumatic childhoods who did not play group sports.

Participating in team sports or similar group activities also improves social health. When joining others for exercise, LGBTQIA+ people can feel a sense of belonging and develop friendships and long-term support networks.

Team sports improve feelings of LGBTQIA+ acceptance and safety because players learn to trust each other when playing together. Team members must rely on each other to succeed at a common goal. As trust grows, a sense of belonging and safety also grows.

Team Sports and Overcoming Barriers

Even if they want to exercise more, obstacles can make it harder for LGBTQIA+ people to participate in group sports or activities. Barriers to LGBTQIA+ acceptance in team sports and group physical activity include:

  • Anxiety about the risk of physical or sexual assault.
  • Difficulty finding a changing room where they feel safe and accepted.
  • Difficulty finding a team where they feel accepted, especially if coed teams are not available.
  • Experiencing homophobia or transphobia.
  • Greater feelings of discomfort with body image, especially for trans people during transition.
  • Physical impediments during transition, such as binders.

People can overcome many of these barriers by looking for community resources for LGBTQIA+ individuals. Local social media groups often offer a way to find others with similar interests in team sports or other activities.

In addition, many communities have LGBTQIA+ organizations or special LGBTQIA+ nights at community centers. In fact, Stonewall Sports Pittsburgh is the area’s largest LGBTQIA+ sports organization. Locals can sign up for their mailing list and see when registration begins for nine different sports:

  • Bocce
  • Bowling
  • Dodgeball
  • Indoor volleyball
  • Kickball
  • Pickleball
  • Sand volleyball
  • Ultimate frisbee
  • Yoga.

These activities can provide the physical and mental benefits of exercise with others:

  • Going on hikes with a group.
  • Exercise classes, such as aerobics, yoga, and tai chi.
  • Organized team sports, such as playing on a team at a community center or YMCA.
  • Pick-up games, such as informal basketball games or a weekend softball game.
  • Swimming together at the pool, lake, or beach.
  • Taking bicycle rides with friends or a local riding group.
  • Taking walks at the park or around the neighborhood with friends.
  • Two-person and four-person sports, such as tennis, racquetball, handball, badminton, ping pong, and pickleball.
  • Weight lifting or other strength activities with a workout partner.

About UPMC

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