The Health Benefits of Archery
Archery: the practice of using a bow to shoot arrows. I’m sure this is something we’re all at least vaguely familiar with. Traditionally, archery was used for hunting food or during combat, and although it could date back as far as the stone age, the earliest people known to have used bows and arrows are the ancient Egyptians, who used them for hunting and warfare. However, in a modern society, archery is mainly used as a recreational activity and competitive sport. But what really makes archery so beneficial for our mental and physical wellbeing?
There are many physical health benefits that are linked to the sport, including: increased cardiovascular health; muscle strengthening; improved hand-eye coordination; and an improvement in your overall balance.
Archery improves the health of your heart in the same way that running on a treadmill or going out for a jog can. The amount of physical exertion required to lift and shoot a bow elevates your heart rate, as does walking to and from your target in order to collect your arrows. This gets your blood pumping and burns calories in the same way many other forms of exercise do.
If you have ever drawn a bow before, you will know that doing so requires a large amount of effort on the archer’s behalf. Similar to lifting weights, a full draw requires the archer to pause for a few seconds before releasing their arrow. This allows tension to build in the muscles, strengthening them. Over time, the difference is obvious, in that drawing back and anchoring your bow becomes much easier. Overall, your shoulders, back, chest, arm and core muscles all receive a workout during archery and this can definitely be felt after a few hours of shooting.
The success of an archer is highly dependent on their level of hand-eye coordination. When shooting, it is vital that your mind is able to send messages to your brain regarding what, if any, adjustments need to be made to your form. And when you are aiming for the centre of your target, you must be able to recognise when you are aiming correctly, and then this information must be relayed to your brain in order to release your arrow.
Having the ability remain perfectly still and be completely balanced is a difficult task in itself and doing it whilst holding your heavily weighted bow is definitely no simpler. So being able to take a deep breath and steady yourself is a remarkable thing. Famous Canadian actor, Stephen Amell once said, “You have to relax when you’re shooting an arrow. You can’t be tense. And that just helps in your day-to-day life”. Although it’s not something that can be improved overnight, eventually it will naturally become less of a challenge.
However, archery doesn’t just benefit your body, there are many benefits for your mind as well.
Some mental health benefits of archery can include the relief of stress, increased depth of focus, better social skills and improved confidence.
Stress is known to be a cause of many secondary health issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity, so it’s very fortunate that archery helps you to reduce stress levels and to ‘blow off a little steam’. Archery is seen as a way of active meditation, which in turn will improve your mood, relieve stress and ease any anxiety or depression. It can become a place where you can forget about your troubles for a short period of time – giving your mind a well-deserved break.
Archery is very reliant on the archer’s ability to focus on a singular task. When aiming at the target, you must be able to block out all other thoughts and distractions, and only think about where you are aiming for. But this isn’t an easy trait, and it doesn’t happen automatically. Developing this ability to shut out everything around you and slow down your breathing will significantly improve each shot you take, and those who manage to acquire this skill tend to find that it carries over into everyday life.
Although archery can be an individual or a team sport, there will always be times where you’ll need to talk to other people; no matter how you choose to shoot. Whether that is during tournaments (where archers often find themselves grouped with people they haven’t met before) or possibly just at your local archery club. There are always going to be times where you are required to converse with those around you.
Whether it be confidence in your own abilities or confidence when around others, archery is a brilliant way of boosting your self-esteem. Seeing your skills and scores gradually improve really provides a boost of self-confidence for an archer and knowing that these improvements can lead to new personal bests and achievements never fails to give you a sense of accomplishment.
In my opinion, stress relief is the most important benefit of archery, because it benefits us mentally, and physically in the long run by reducing the risk of some secondary health issues. Without taking too much time out of your day, archery is a fantastic way to escape the worries you have and focus on what you are doing at that moment. And for those archers who choose to shoot outside, the tranquillity can be a refreshing experience and another perfect way to relieve stress.
So overall, archery is an excellent sport and has many benefits for your mental and physical health. Although, like every sport, there is always a risk of injury, the benefits surrounding archery significantly outweigh them.
— Mia Stevens