12. Benefits of sports

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Like the 1998 survey, the 2005 GSS asked Canadians to rank the degree to which sport provides them with the following benefits: physical health and fitness, family activities, new friends and acquaintances, fun, recreation and relaxation, or a sense of achievement. Rankings were "very important", "somewhat important" and "not important".

In 2005, about 5.3 million people representing 73% of adult active participants rated sport as a very important source of fun, recreation and relaxation, up from 68% in 1998. That was the highest ranked benefit in 2005. It was followed by physical health and fitness, with 68% or 5 million people selecting it as a very important benefit of sport.

The sense of achievement gained from participating in sport followed, rated as a very important benefit by 3.5 million people, or 48% of active participants. Family activity came in fourth with 3.2 million participants (43%) choosing it, with the lowest rating (34% of active participants) going to meeting new friends and acquaintances. About 2.5 million participants rated sport as very important for this benefit.

Chart 21
Benefits of sport by sex, 2005

12.1 Active participants ranked relaxation as top benefit

Most active Canadians see sport as a very important way to have fun and relax. This is particularly so for the 25 to 34 age group, where more than three quarters (77%) ranked fun and relaxation as a very important benefit of sport. The rest of the age cohorts, excluding the 15 to 18 years old, were not far behind, with 70% to 74% of them putting fun and relaxation at the top of the benefits they derived from sport in 2005. This compares with 67% for the 15 to 18 year olds. For this age cohort, the most important benefit was health and fitness. Sixty-nine percent of them ranked physical health and fitness as the top benefit and 62% picked a sense of achievement.

For most baby boomers11, the youngest of which turned 40 in 2005, the top benefit was fun and relaxation, followed by physical health and fitness. Family activities were the third while making new friends and acquaintances obtained the least ranking overall.

Overall, men and women attributed higher levels of importance to relaxation and physical health and fitness and lower levels of importance to sense of achievement, family activity, and making new friends and acquaintances. However, women attached greater importance to each of these benefits than men. This was particularly true for family activity. In 2005, almost half (48%) of women ranked family activity as very important, compared to 40% of men.

12.2 Sense of belonging to the community and sport participation

Sport participation encourages team building, social interaction and the bonding of all those involved12. This is thought to have relevance to the concept of community identity and social cohesion13. Social cohesion may lead to personal social capital as sport participants gain success through their connection to other people in a structured relationship. Sport may encourage people from different social backgrounds to come together for a common purpose, inevitably sharing goals that engender personal growth.

In 2005, survey respondents were asked how they would describe their sense of belonging to their local community. Of those active in sport, 68% indicated that their sense of belonging ranged from somewhat strong to very strong, up 5 percentage points from 1998. By comparison, the proportion was slightly lower at 65% for the non-participants. The equivalent figure for the non-participants in 1998 was 61%.

12.3 Health status and sport participation

To most Canadians, sport participation is a road map to good health and longevity, although they consider nutrition and moderation in such personal habits as drinking as also important. Some see sport as a way to control weight. Others link it to physical fitness, resistance to certain diseases and improved quality of life. In 2005, more than 68% of active adult Canadians attached a very high level of importance to the health benefits of sport.

When asked to describe their state of health compared to other people of their age, 66% of sport participants indicated a health rating of very good to excellent compared to 49% of non-participants. This represents a substantial gap of 17 percentage points in favour of active participants. The effects of the aging of the population on participation may continue to be felt for quite some time144. In the year 2020, the youngest baby boomer will be 55 years old and the oldest will be 74. To this age group, health can be an issue. In 2005, one in seven people who did not participate in sports selected health as a reason for not being active in sport. Also, one in ten indicated age as a reason for not participating. Both factors affect or reduce participation in sport.

Obesity is a health issue that discourages people from being active in sport. The more obese the population becomes, the less likely they will be active in sport because of physical restrictions and the more they are likely to gain more weight.15

The results of the National Population Health Survey (NPHS) in 1994/95, 1996/97 and 1998/99 suggest that physical activity even at moderate levels of energy expenditure is beneficial to health. It helps to control and prevent the development of certain health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes even among people with a family history of the diseases. This supports the GSS finding that more active Canadians are more likely to rate their health as very good or excellent compared with less active individuals.

Sport is, however, only one of several avenues to healthy living. In addition to sport, non-sport activity, good nutrition and the avoidance of harmful habits, such as excessive drinking and smoking, all lead to health benefits.

12.4 Life satisfaction and sport participation

In addition to physical fitness, health benefits and improvement in the general quality of life, sport participation may also be linked to increased life satisfaction. Active participants in sports tend to be physically fit and healthy. They tend to feel better about themselves and therefore may be more satisfied with their lives generally. If this is the case, their reported levels of life satisfaction should tend to be higher than those of non-participants. The data support this.

In response to a question on how they felt about life as a whole, on a scale of 1 to 10, 89% of sport participants ranked themselves from 7 to 10 in their level of life satisfaction. In contrast, a lower 75% of non-participants gave themselves this same ranking.

This is not surprising because sport is one activity where people compete very hard and can feel satisfied at the end, win or lose. The culture of sportsmanship tends to give participants a positive feeling about themselves and a general sense of satisfaction.

Table 16
Perceived benefits of participating in sport by age group and sex, Canada, 2005

Table 17
Perceived sense of belonging to the community1 by sport participation, 2005

Table 18
Perceived health status1 by participation in sport, 2005

Table 19
Perceived life satisfaction1 by sport participation, 2005