Spokane Journal of Business

Sports boost female health, well-being

Researchers draw findings for updated release from more than 2,000 studies

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The findings of a Women's Sports Foundation research team are shedding new light on the social and physical benefits that sports programs offer to girls and women.

Released last month and entitled "Her Life Depends on It II," the study is a more comprehensive edition of a 2004 WSF report. Founded in 1974 by tennis great Billy Jean King, the WSF claims to be a leading authority on the participation of women and girls in sports.

The report offers stronger data that physical activity is critical for women's health and well-being. It says that females participating in sports and fitness programs have a much lower risk of developing breast cancer, osteoporosis, and depression than those who don't participate in such programs. It says also that findings show they benefit socially from physical activity programs and are less likely to smoke, do drugs, or become teenage mothers.

In addition, it found that minorities and women from lower socioeconomic backgrounds generally participate less in athletics and fitness programs, and suffer disproportionate health-related consequences.

Jessica Mendoza, WSF president and an Olympic gold medalist in softball, says the report was compiled from more than 2,000 studies, including hundreds conducted since the 2004 report was released, and shows "how important prevention can be to the health of our nation. Something as simple and fun as regularly playing sports and being physically active from an early age can be a major factor in improving the health and lives of American women."

Ellen Staurowsky, professor and graduate chairwoman of the department of sports management and media at Ithaca College, in Ithaca, N.Y., led a research team of seven experts from around the world in compiling the report.

"The five years of new studies and data included in this report lead to the conclusion that participation in sports and long-term physical and mental health in women are inextricably linked," Staurowsky says.

"The importance of participation in sports for girls, from an early age, and throughout their lives cannot be underestimated," she says.

An authority on gender equity, Title IX, and equal employment opportunity issues that apply to college sports, Staurowsky also is an expert on the exploitation of athletes, representation of women in sports media, and the "misappropriation" of American Indian imagery in sport.

In addition to documenting the overwhelming evidence regarding the health benefits of sports and physical activity, a section of the latest report addresses emerging areas of research that deal with female athletes and sports-related injuries. Although more research needs to be done to understand female athletes and their injury rates better, early findings suggest that coaches and educators should be aware of the different physiological needs of female athletes and tailor training programs accordingly.

The Women's Sports Foundation advocates for equality, educates the public, conducts research, and offers grants to promote sports and physical activity for girls and women.

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