Want to get fit? Start playing basketball. From pick-up games to the pros, basketball has the potential to offer a multitude of all-around health benefits. As exercise goes, it doesn't get much better than a fun team sport that requires no expensive equipment or major time commitments. And if you need more convincing, here are seven reasons to play basketball, according to Dr. Tim Howell, assistant professor of physical therapy and athletic training at Saint Louis University. Basketball is good for:

1. Your heart
Basketball can help you develop cardiovascular endurance, depending on how many times play stops. Keep moving and you'll keep your heart rate up. Building endurance can help keep your heart healthy, reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke later in life.

2. Your muscles
Long range three-point shots help develop both upper and lower body strength, as does jumping to block shots. Strong muscles help you maintain your balance and decrease your risk of falling.

3. Your bones
Jumping is a great way to develop and improve bone health. Weight-bearing exercise helps maintain your bone density over the course of your lifetime. Stronger bones are bones that are less likely to break.

4. Your brain
By developing eye-hand coordination, basketball builds spatial awareness. Your body will know where it is in space and time. Ever wonder why a cat always lands on its feet? Body awareness.

5. Your gut
Reducing it, that is. Depending on the intensity at which you play, you can burn 700 or more calories an hour. Burn fat while having fun.

6. Your social life
Have fun. Socialize. Build teamwork. Strong relationships translate into good health. Social people are less likely to suffer from depression and also tend to have a stronger immune system. Exercising in a group also tends to lead to better continued participation. Because you're not exercising alone, you have a built-in support system.

7. Your stress levels
Played alone or in groups, basketball can reduce stress. Exercise is a proven stress-reliever. Decreasing your stress will help you focus and have more energy to complete tasks.


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