Brutal fights, missing teeth, huge pads. No, not a night out at a dodgy disco in the 1980s; hockey. If you fancy yourself as the next Wayne Gretzky then you’re not alone. Over half a million Canadians are registered as hockey players, and if there’s one thing the Canadians know, it’s hockey.
So, why should you go to the trouble of pulling on all that clunky padding and try to hit a little disc with a big stick? Well, the benefits to both mind and body are well documented.
Physical Benefits of Hockey
Let’s start with the obvious. Are you looking to lose weight? Most of us would answer ‘yes’ to this, so why not do it in a way that’s fun, challenging and rewarding? You could do a lot worse than play a game of hockey. Forget the fad diets and those hilarious infomercials they show at 3am for machines that will inevitably just become something to hang your washing on. Instead, grab your hockey stick, your puck and a few friends for a game and the weight will start to slide off you. This isn’t a game for slouches. Playing hockey isn’t like football or swimming where the level of energy use is fairly consistent throughout, it involves short, controlled bursts of energy. The very nature of the game means you’ll be stop-start, stop-start for the duration, which is usually seventy minutes. Yes, seventy. Matches on professional hockey pitches will typically last for over two and a half hours. That’s a heck of a way to burn through fat and calories. It’s like working out, but fun. Think of it as high intensity interval-training but with less Lycra.
So why on earth would you want to put yourself through that, I hear you ask? Let’s assume you’ve taken the plunge and have started to play. Hopefully, the first thing you’ll get from it is enjoyment, but while you’re enjoying yourself you’re getting a full body workout at the same time. Bye-bye keg, hello six-pack.
Let’s be clear here, this isn’t like going to the gym and taking a selfie for Facebook while you just sit on the machines, there’s no skipping leg day here. Hockey demands a lot from your body. You can expect to have aching shoulders, triceps and forearms, as well as shaky leg muscles, calves and hamstrings. The pain, however, is temporary, the long term benefits are massively beneficial.
Taking Care of Your Health
The immediate upside is, after intense physical activity like this you’ll be ready for a good night’s sleep (after hitting the shower first, of course). You’ll fall asleep faster and your sleep will be deeper and more restful. The more rested you are, the more energy you have, so it’s a win-win from the start. With this new-found source of energy you’ll want to play the game more and the fitter you’ll become. As your energy and muscular strength increases, so does the capacity of your cardiovascular system. Thanks to whacking that little disc around with a stick your body is actually able to supply itself with oxygen more efficiently. The more oxygen your muscles have the fitter and healthier you’ll be.
But that’s not all. The more oxygen the muscles are provided with, the stronger they become. Yes, that’s right, the more you play, the stronger you’ll become. So not only will you bulk up and lose that ‘Christmas timber’ you’ve been carrying around since the millennium, but your bone structure and your connective tissues actually become stronger too. So, in effect, the more you play, the less likely you are to get injured. Of course, it does give you less excuse to throw a sicky at work.
There’s another advantage to this whole hockey business that you wouldn’t automatically think of, too; improved coordination. If you’re anything like me, I struggle to even drink a cup of coffee without spilling it down myself. Now imagine you’ve got a hockey puck travelling towards your face at 100 mph. You’ve either got to react quickly or you’re spending the night in A&E. Hockey actively develops hand-eye coordination. It improves response times, reflexes, motor skills and agility. Not bad for a game started by a bunch of Canadian College kids at the start of the 1800s.
Hockey Can Boost Your Mental Health
Speaking of college, there’s also a cerebral side to the game too. While your body is busy making itself fitter and more agile, your brain is also getting its very own workout. Endorphins released during exercise have long been linked to improving your mood. Exercise has been clinically proven to ease stress, depression and anxiety and is advocated by doctors as a very real help in overcoming these conditions. Hockey is no exception. The demands on the brain to concentrate and make split-second decisions not only relieve stress on the field but these skills can be used off the field too in everyday life situations, such as work.
Have you ever gone home from a day at work and said to your other half, ‘I don’t know why I bother, they don’t listen to a word I say.’ Sound familiar? Hockey could help you there. It has been proven that team sports improve communication. Being able to send a message in the middle of fast play via gestures and nuances vastly improve a team’s productivity and success. Remember that the next time Dave from Accounting is droning on about how you could improve productivity. All he had to do was nod discreetly at Mark from Supplies, and you could have saved yourselves three hours in a stuffy board room.
Become Part of a Close Team
And last but certainly not least, what does every team leader love? TEAM BUILDING EXERCISES! It’s easy to be sarcastic of course, but there is a genuine thrill of working hard with a team of people and getting a result. If just one of your team doesn’t pull his or her weight, then the team doesn’t function as well. But when you all pull together and claim a victory, then those endorphins get released again and the team spirit and feeling of accomplishment makes you feel on top of the world. And it’s definitely more fun than singing ‘Kumbaya’ while trying to make a shelter out of wet twigs in Skegness in October.
So let’s recap. Not only will hockey provide you with a fun way of staying fit and healthy, but there are multiple benefits to your mind and body too. You’ll fall asleep faster and then sleep like a baby on a cloud. You’ll have increased energy and your body becomes stronger and less injury prone. Your hand-eye coordination, stamina, reflexes, flexibility and motor skills all improve. And let’s not forget the benefits to your mind as well as your body. Because of the fast-moving nature of the game, your cognitive capacity increases, your decision-making skills are improved, and perhaps most importantly, it de-stresses you. Who wouldn’t want less stress in their lives?
These benefits are obviously all well and good, but if there’s one thing that hockey is exceptionally good at it’s a feeling of achievement and camaraderie. Being able to put yourself through physical exertion with a group of other people, working together with a common purpose, making split-second decisions based purely on trust and then coming out at the end with a victory, well, that’s the real reward.
I suppose the only real question is; why are you still reading this when you could be playing hockey? Go and dig out your equipment and practice on your slapshot. I’ll see you out on the field.