Long-term medical conditions like obesity and depression keep rising in the United States, encouraging shifts from crash diets to long-term, sustainable healthy lifestyles. At the same time, archery participation has surged 14 percent since 2012 to 21.6 million archers nationwide. Are the two related? Can archery improve your health and quality of life? It’s possible.
CNN reported that one in five people globally will be obese by 2025. Meanwhile, Huffington Post reported that one in four will experience a mental-health issue during their lifetime. What was once a taboo topic is now widely discussed as news sources emphasize holistic health and the negative implications of suffering in silence. Being healthy isn’t just about looking good. It’s also feeling your best and fueling your body, mind and spirit.
Archery fuels your body.
According to Harvard University, 30 minutes of archery burns about 100 calories, depending on your body weight. In addition, properly drawing a bow strengthens your core, arms, chest, hands and shoulders. A strengthened core also improves posture and blood flow, boosting energy levels as your cells pump oxygen to your organs and muscles. But archery’s physical benefits don’t stop there.
Paralympic archer Leigh Walmsley turned to archery as a low-impact, social sport to relieve her rheumatoid arthritis and mental pressures from her divorce. Walmsley doesn’t explicitly consider archery part of her RA treatment plan, but Dr. Daniel J. Lovell of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital believes several factors make archery beneficial to chronic-arthritis sufferers.
“Archery and RA go well together because with consistent practice to develop accuracy and muscle memory most people can do well in the sport,” Lovell told Madeline Vann of Everyday Health.
Vann said Lovell and his colleagues offer archery at a summer camp for children with RA. “Archery is also adaptable to make it possible for people with varying abilities to compete,” he said.
Take “Armless Archer” Matt Stutzman, for instance. He was born without arms, and shoots by using his right foot to nock the arrow and grip the bow, and a release-aid strapped to his shoulder to draw and release. Meanwhile, Janice Walth is a blind archer who shoots with specially adapted equipment. Despite their physical challenges, Stutzman and Walth reap archery’s benefits, including improved focus, strength and coordination. They also enjoy those “feel good” chemicals often associated with exercise.
Consider visiting your local park or range for a 30-minute archery workout the next time you need a midday work break. Archery exercise helps you burn calories and combat the negative effects of sitting at a desk all day.
Archery fuels your mind.
If you suffer from depression, you’re not alone. According to the World Heath Organization, about 450 million people worldwide battle depression. Huffington Post recommends exercise and meditation for improving mental health. With archery, the two go hand in hand.
Louise Redman, Australia’s champion archer, turns to archery to battle depression. “I suffered from postnatal depression quite badly with both of my kids,” Redman told the Canberra Times. “With [Ainslie], I knew it was coming and I wanted to do something about it before it hit me.”
Redman didn’t want to sulk at home. She wanted to get active, so she picked up a bow and arrow for mental healing. “You’ve got to be in a meditation state when you’re shooting,” she said. “You can’t do anything else. It appealed to me. It was better than sitting on the floor, crossing my legs and humming.”
Redman thinks archery was the perfect cure for her postnatal depression. She said the ailment is more common than people realize, and encourages other moms to seek help and healing through the support group archery provides.
Military veterans are also turning to archery to battle post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). SB Nation interviewed U.S. archers at the 2016 Invictus Games, an international Paralympic event for wounded veterans. Great Britain’s Prince Harry founded the Games in 2014. The word “invictus” means “unconquered.” In other words, the Games inspire veterans to be “unconquered” by the mental and physical injuries suffered during their service. Even so, each day brings new battles.
Joshua Lindstrom, an archer and retired sergeant first-class of the U.S. Special Operations Command, shared how he copes with his traumatic brain injury. “I have a Traumatic Brain Injury – an invisible injury, so I have to learn how to engage the thinking gears in situations that I’ve found myself deficient in,” Lindstrom told SB Nation.
Lindstrom accomplishes that by including meditation in his shot process. “Before I shoot, I have to meditate for 15 minutes,” he said. “I have to get out of the me that gets angry easily, and get into the me that lets stuff slide, like I used to be.”
Lindstrom told SB Nation that pre-shot meditation helps him overcome anger so he can cope with stress, anxiety or pain. “Every time I overcome something, in spite of what has happened, that’s one more time,” he said. “One more success makes it easier every time.”
Depression has long been a “taboo” topic, with a stigma surrounding clinical treatment. That stigma is decreasing as news outlets and celebrities like Ruby Rose, Demi Lovato, John Green and Jared Padalecki discuss mental health and encourage others to seek help.
Depression is nothing to be ashamed of, yet many battle daily depressive thoughts in silence. Discuss treatment options with your doctor, and consider trying archery to re-center your focus and take your mind off grueling demands.
Archery fuels your spirit.
The National Wellness Institute lists “spiritual wellness” as one of holistic wellness’s six dimensions. According to NWI co-founder Dr. Bill Hettler, this means finding meaning and purpose in human existence.
Compound archer Samantha Tucker traces her meaning and purpose back to her thoughts, and encourages others to do the same.
Tucker is an Air Force veteran and Rio 2016 Olympic hopeful. She grew up on a Nebraskan ranch, and never dreamed she would one day be described as an “elite athlete,” especially after losing her left hand in a motorcycle accident.
“Every action is rooted in the thought that produced it,” Tucker told Archery 360. “Whether it’s archery or anything else, becoming aware and raising awareness of thoughts we think about, even in the background, is so important. If you’re not happy where your arrow is hitting or where you are in your life, it all goes back to your thoughts. I was born able-bodied and lost the use of my left arm. That event could’ve been a bad thing, but I chose to make it a good thing.”
Tucker relates the power of thoughts to other trials. “Divorce, career loss, personal tragedy, down to the smallest thing, your car breaking down,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what the event is. You get to assign the meaning, so choose well. You’ve got that power.”
By “choosing well,” Tucker achieves spiritual wellness, and inspires others to do the same. “What this archery journey has provided me is a world stage for encouraging and motivating people,” Tucker said. “I love to see people challenge their own perceived limitations. A lot of times, people believe they have limitations, but no facts to back it up. It’s just a belief they have. I’m looking forward to the whole experience and the opportunity this is going to give me to encourage, motivate and inspire other people.”
Archery fuels healthy relationships.
Recurve archer Emma Harris started shooting archery with her stepfather when she was 8 years old. Harris’ stepfather, Kevin, is a combat-disabled veteran.
“He didn’t get much help dealing with his injuries’ physical and mental realities,” said Michelle Simpson-Pitts, Kevin’s wife and Emma’s mother. “When he met Emma, he started getting outside to coach her, which helped him engage in life. It was a large factor in helping him seek treatment for various issues, and to become a certified USA Archery coach.”
Archery emotionally connected Emma and her stepfather, and it helped her build relationships with students her own age, too. “Emma was shy and seldom engaged with anyone outside of the house before she took up archery,” Simpson-Pitts told 360’s Brandi Granett. “Now she’s the opposite. She seldom stops talking!”
Although archery is very much an individual sport – you control where your arrows strike – shooting helped Emma come out of her shell to become an effective communicator.
“She said the process helped her learn to talk about experiences and learn from others,” said Simpson-Pitts, on behalf of Harris. “The only way you succeed is by seeking knowledge that improves your techniques and mental game. You get more information through teammates and coaches, so communication is important.”
Archery also helped Emma battle internal negativity and self-talk. “When (Emma) started putting arrows in the red and yellow (target rings), she immediately felt a confidence boost,” Simpson-Pitts said. “Success feels great! She is so much more talkative, and much more willing to be exactly who she is.”
Archery fuels your “what’s next.”
Archery isn’t a cure or Band-Aid for every health issue, but it provides many benefits, including increased focus, strength and coordination. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, battle depressive thoughts, build new relationships, experience a post-exercise high, or relieve back and neck pain through a stronger core and better posture, archery might help. Talk to your doctor about the best way to achieve holistic health, and consider adding archery to your exercise regimen.