Exercise and mental health: Can skateboarding cure depression?

Exercise and mental health: Can skateboarding cure depression?

Healthy minds and bodies

The link between exercise and good physical and mental health is well-documented. Doctors recommend at least 75 minutes of “vigorous aerobic activity” each week in order to stay healthy, and more exercise brings increased health benefits.

But how you get that exercise is entirely up to you, of course, and we’ve seen a rise in action sports, as people seek out new, more creative, and sometimes more convenient forms of physical activity. Skateboarding, in particular, is becoming more mainstream both as a form of exercise, and also as a sport, in general. And while the COVID-19 pandemic saw a decline in participation for many sports, skateboarding only continued to grow in popularity as a practical, socially-distanced form of exercise.

Later this summer, skateboarding will be thrust into the global spotlight when it makes its long-awaited debut as an Olympic sport at the Tokyo 2021 games. As The Conversation put it, the Olympics will provide “a global platform to promote skateboarding as a cross-cultural community that possesses a set of shared values.”

The hope is that millions of people around the world will see skating not only as a fun activity and a means for exercise, but also as a gateway to a creative, diverse global community that fosters positive vibes and healthy minds and bodies.

Feeling the vibes

Last September, Tik Tok user Nathan Apodaca (@420doggface208) posted a 23-second clip that made him a viral sensation: a shot of him skateboarding down an empty street in Idaho Falls, Idaho, after his old truck broke down two miles from the potato warehouse where he worked.

The scene was pure serenity: Apodaca coolly sips from a bottle of Ocean Spray cranberry juice while rolling down the road, listening to the melodic 1977 hit single, “Dreams,” by Fleetwood Mac. Something about the video’s simplicity and accessibility struck a chord with the masses who viewed it – after the clip went viral, “Dreams” catapulted back on the charts, tripling in sales, and Apodaca received a lifetime supply of cranberry juice from Ocean Spray.

But it wasn’t just the soothing vocals of Stevie Nicks and the refreshing allure of sweet cranberry juice that made Apodaca’s clip speak to the masses – it was also the unadulterated freedom of skateboarding down the open road. Within an hour of posting the video, it had 100,000 views. A month later, it had over 35 million, and had inspired tributes from the Lt. Governor of Montana, Jimmy Fallon, and Mick Fleetwood himself, among others.

Apodaca was happy to provide people with a respite from these turbulent times. “There’s just too much chaos right now,” he later told NPR. “Everybody just needed something to relax to and vibe out with.” As he proved, even watching skateboarding can improve the mental health of masses of people.

Health benefits of skateboarding

One of the main reasons for the rise in popularity of skateboarding and other action sports is that they can provide significant overall health benefits to participants. Skateboarding has been shown to “reduce stress, increase confidence, and provide escapism,” and provide a coping mechanism for skateboarders.

In fact, skateboarding has been associated with an incredibly wide variety of physical, mental, and social health benefits. It provides a full-body workout that burns calories and lowers the risk of diabetes, obesity, heart problems and high blood pressure – all key factors in the body’s ability to fight viruses like COVID-19. It even helps to reduce your triglyceride levels and regulate your cholesterol.

Furthermore, it relieves stress, increases endurance, balance, and precision, and fosters creativity and courage. There is truly no shortage to the health benefits of skating.

Skateboarding also helps with mindfulness and focus, and skateboarding has been used to combat ADHD. Skateboarding improves the executive brain functions for focus, planning, and self-control, encouraging participants to develop their attention skills. 

High levels of concentration are required to land a trick, and distraction increases the chances of falling or bailing. Meanwhile, skateboarding requires lots of practice, as tricks are rarely completed on the first try, which builds determination and cultivates a positive attitude in the face of adversity.

Skateboarding improves empathy, mental and social health

A February 2020 study by Pullias Center for Higher Education at the University of Southern California found that skateboarding “improves mental health, fosters community, and encourages diversity and resilience.” 

According to the study’s author, Neftalie Williams, skaters are more capable critical thinkers and problem-solvers and are capable of developing “relationships with people from diverse backgrounds.”

In a sport where innovation and creativity are succeeded by mass imitation and reproducion, it follows that skateboarders would be naturally empathetic people. Research has shown that possessing empathy is a crucial component of good mental health, as being able to share yourself enough to connect to others “adds immeasurably to relationship happiness.”

Skateboarders are always watching and engaging with one another, learning one another’s tricks and gaining insight from peers. As a result, skaters are better suited to empathize with members of their community who are facing hardships, and provide a welcoming space for a diverse group of people.

How skateboarding can cure depression

Skateboarding’s ability to help participants develop and maintain good mental health has proven to be extraordinarily valuable during the pandemic. In some cases, skateboarding can even help participants cure depression.

Most non-prescription treatments for depression involve keeping your brain very busy to prevent activity from slowing down. A daily, 30-minute skate session is a highly-effective way of keeping your brain stimulated.

For an increasing number of people, skateboarding and mental health go hand-and-hand. James Hope-Gill, CEO at Skateboard England, said the recent research on the effects of skating on mental health is “really reassuring to hear and is great insight into the additional benefits skateboarding provides.”

He added, “In a year when mental health issues are at an all-time high it’s positive to see that people are able to help combat it with something they already enjoy doing.”

As we saw last year with Apodaca, even watching skateboarding and engaging virtually can lift the spirits of millions of people. One of skateboarding’s most powerful tools is its ability to connect people who would otherwise have little in common. It’s this human connection that’s often the most organic cure for mental health issues like depression.

Stay active to improve your physical, mental and social health

Whether you’re a total beginner or an experienced skater, DIVERT is a great place to participate in activities that have been linked to improvements in overall physical and mental health. They’re skateparks feature guides for beginner, intermediate, and advanced riders to help you with your technique or teach you your next favorite trick.

DIVERT will even supply a board and a helmet if you don’t have one, so there’s literally no excuse for not getting out there! Remember, just 75 minutes a week and you’ll be on your way to a more physically, mentally, and socially healthy lifestyle.

All it takes is a skateboard to unlock the door to an entire diverse, creative global community, and stay healthy in the process. Just schedule a session and hop on a board – your body and mind will thank you!

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