The Transformative Power of Art and Sport




By Jennifer Colley










Art and Sport: Two Natural Healers


By Jennifer Colley

The classification of people as ‘either arty or sporty’ begins quite early in life, in our school years, yet it goes without saying that these pastimes have plenty in common:  both bring together people from all walks of life, both serve as a relief from pent-up frustration, fear and trauma. These are some of the many ways both art and sport can bestow a healing effect.

  • Art and sport can aid patient to deal with serious diseases like cancerArt is used as therapy to deal with a number of conditions, including the psychosocial effects of cancer, owing to its ability to reduce the perception of pain, improve one’s body image and reduce levels of stress hormone, cortisol. The same can be said of sport, which has also been proven in various studies to lower cortisol levels and improve our body image, especially as our fitness level and ability improve.
  • Art and sport battle depression: If you are interested in learning more about the powerful effects that art has on the brain, we recommend the book Arts with the Brain in Mind, by Eric Jensen. The author notes that art enhances our ability to “elicit and even mediate our emotional responses.” He adds that art activates different areas of the brain and that once we find something we can identify with in art we have created or in a work we are viewing, we are moved to a state of greater positivity. Art battles depression by showing us that we have a choice; that as we create, there are a myriad of decisions we can make, neither of which is absolutely right or wrong. What we produce is symbolic of the many paths we can take in our pursuit of happiness. Sport is also a powerful way to battle depression, since it teaches us the value of hoping  and aiming for success, and of trying out new strategies when the result of our efforts has not been to our liking. Both art and sport teach us to accept our shortcomings and find ways to improve, so we can continue to do something which we love; something which is highly beneficial to our physical and mental health. In many ways, both sports and art hold the key to a positive life transformation.
  • Art and sport can be used to help heal those suffering from addiction and eating disorders: The ability of both art and sport to counter the effects of stress has led them to be popular choices in everything from rehabilitation centers for those recovering from drug abuse, to centers for patients with Alzheimer’s disease and even hospital units and centers for those suffering from eating disorders. Since an addiction to exercise is a common characteristic of those suffering from anorexia and other eating disorders, it may seem counter-productive to encourage recovering patients to take part in exercise. In fact, the opposite is true; specific methods like yoga and Pilates, with their emphasis on mindfulness and mind-body coordination, are gentle ways to increase the strength lost through a poor nutritional intake. Moreover, these methods, which are apt for all fitness levels and all ages, are an excellent introduction into an authentic love for sport, with its focus on healthy competition. To succeed at sports, moderation is key, both in our nutritional intake and in the amount of exercise we do. An interest in doing the right thing by our team or in shining in our individual sport encourages us to lead a healthier lifestyle.
  • Both art and sport boost our self-confidence: One of the most powerful effects of art therapy is its ability to make us feel that we have accomplished something; sport is similar in its emphasis on finishing (think of a challenging race like Ironman), improving on past efforts and seeing our own progress in real, measurable terms. Positive comments from family members and those who make up our social circle also go a long way towards encouraging us to continue with our chosen art form or sport.
  • Art and sport battle fatigue: Studies have shown that not only does art therapy lower stress levels; it also reduces fatigue. Both are actually related, since when too much cortisol is produced, our ‘fight or flight’ response is invoked and we can find it difficult to make many positive lifestyle choices, such as expanding our social circle, joining our local community or commencing an exercise program.  Since art battles stress, it frees up our system to make rational choices that lead to self-improvement. Exercise similarly battles tiredness. One fascinating study showed that physical activity was able to lower fatigue levels in patients recovering from breast cancer; this is crucial, since tiredness and high stress levels are linked to poorer outcomes for these patients.
  • Both art and sport produce a natural high: If you are a passionate painter and sculptor, then surely you recall having worked on a particular piece for hours on end, throughout the night, impervious to hunger and sleep, to the passing of time and to other obligations. This sensation of being outside of time and space is incredibly similar to what keen athletes call ‘being in The Zone’, when tiredness and pain disappear and the athlete performs at their peak and begins to feel like nothing can hold them back. It is a unique sensation and one that can additionally be understood and experienced, by an artist.


table of contents


Eve’s Magazine