Gymnastics is widely renowned as a sport that can improve overall fitness, strength, balance and body control (Harrell, 2003), as well as helping to improve athletic performance in any other sport.
However, what many people don’t realise is that extended participation in gymnastics classes also provides many additional cognitive and psychological benefits that will continue to benefit an individual throughout their life. These include:
- Social interaction and discipline;
- Improved mental focus and concentration;
- Education and an understanding of physics;
- Flexibility, balance and co-ordination;
- Numerous health benefits.
Sound good? Read on to find out more.
Gymnastics and discipline
Gymnastics provides a unique and valuable social education and experience. It provides an ideal opportunity to learn about teamwork; sportsmanship; fair play and dedication. The time required to master the fundamental skills requires a great amount of patience, dedication, perseverance and planning. Regular gymnastics therefore helps people learn to work hard for objectives that can take years to achieve.
In the modern world of quick-fixes, instant communication and fast food there is a need for young people to develop their character using methods of delayed gratification and gymnastics is a perfect activity for such development (5).
Gymnastics and cognitive functioning
Participation in gymnastics does not only offer physical gains; it is beneficial for improving concentration and mental focus – an important aspect of anyone’s life. Studies show that there is a particularly significant relationship between physical activity and cognitive functioning in children (Etnier & Sibley, 2003) and with gymnastics covering such a diverse area, cognitive application is important throughout the entire scope of activities.
From a young age children are encouraged to use play to build upon their understanding of how their body works. The use of gymnastic equipment allows faster development of this process through interaction. Both children and coaches are encouraged to use their imagination, act out situations and develop relationships within the sport. By training the body to perform independently as well as interacting with static equipment, the ability for faster development of spatial awareness and body control is achieved. Gymnastics allows children the chance to think for themselves, to stimulate their imaginations and to solve problems safely (7).
Children will also experience better hand-eye coordination and improve various communication skills. And as well as taking enjoyment from participation, gymnastics provides a way for young people to test their mettle against themselves and others. Gymnastics can therefore provide opportunities for physical development, character development and education that are hard to find anywhere else (5).
Gymnastics and education
Education is perhaps the most important part of gymnastics. When an activity is naturally orchestrated to provide participants with unique and valuable learning experiences, it serves the participants better than any book, television show, or website. As time progresses, noticeable benefits in performance provide individuals with a high level of self-motivation and allow further enjoyment and progression within the sport. This pursuit of success indicates a “healthier” outlook on competition, an improvement in self esteem and an understanding of the importance to function independently and be self-reliant (5).
One of the most interesting elements of the activities involved in gymnastics is that the gymnast can experience a variety of effects in practice rather than just in theory. For example, physicists discuss the principle of conservation of angular momentum; the gymnast experiences it. The physics teacher may discuss moment of inertia and its relation to angular momentum, but the gymnast can see and feel this while performing skills. The richness of such experiences goes far beyond reading about them in a book. Recently, a National Science Foundation grant has used gymnastics as a means of teaching fundamental physics to students (5) for this very reason.
Gymnastics and co-ordination
Flexibility is a big factor in gymnastics. In order to achieve the various positions needed to perform moves, suppleness is of vital importance. Increasing flexibility can also be an effective aid to the reduction of injury, preventing people from forcing a limb to an injurious range of motion. By learning movements and combining them in a routine, the gymnast can attain greater flexibility and greater control of the body.
Gymnastics can also improve co-ordination. Gymnasts do not react with as large a “startle response” to sudden imbalances as non-gymnasts. By applying this conditioning outside the sport, people become better equipped to avoid hazardous situations by quickly identifying them and naturally correcting body alignment when walking, standing or jumping etc. This therefore means that gymnasts can tolerate larger disturbances to their posture because they have become more familiar with these positions (5).
Gymnastics and health
Gymnastics moves themselves are designed on a progressive scale to allow further development to make them harder and more intricate. With each level achieved through suitably planned training, participants are able to improve their joint health, maintain muscular development and improve cardiovascular fitness.
Long-term use of weight bearing activities such as gymnastics can also provide a clear benefit in age-related functional decline and bone loss (Uusi-Rasi et al., 2005), helping to reduce the risk of osteoporosis. And because it helps burn fat, a regular workout such as gymnastics also contributes to weight management and in turn, healthy cholesterol levels and blood pressure levels.
If you’re still not convinced, I have saved possibly the most persuasive benefit of gymnastics till last. It’s really good fun! Learning how to tumble, flip, swing, and come as close to self powered flight as is possible anything but boring. There is always another step to learn; it is possible to learn something new every single class you attend. A regular workout also releases endorphins (the happiness chemicals that improve mood) (6).
There are so many diverse and wide-reaching disciplines involved within the sport that it is accessible to all ages and abilities and there are benefits at every stage. So what are you waiting for? Come and join us!
K. Uusi-Rasi, H. Sievänen, A. Heinonen, I. Vuori, T. J. Beck and P. Kannus Long-term recreational gymnastics provides a clear benefit in age-related functional decline and bone loss. A prospective 6-year study Osteoporosis International Volume 17, Number 8, 1154-1164, DOI: 10.1007/s00198-006-0108-z
Harrell, R (2003). Adult Gymnastics: Why We Should All Do It. Power Athletes Magazine. Retrieved from: http://www.powerathletesmag.com/archives/one/gymnastics.htm
Reproduced for YourDoc Medical Ltd 2011. A Healthcare company set up by health professionals, based in West Sussex, providing a range of preventative health care services to people who share a commitment to wellness. A trusted and reliable source of health and wellbeing information on the web, providing an online source of education and support. All content is reviewed by clinicians before going on the website.