Discover how target shooting with a bow can boost both your physical health and mental well-being.
Archery as a stand-alone act is simple. Simply draw the string back to your face and let go. Watch your arrow travel downrange and, hopefully, hit the bullseye. Lather, rinse and repeat. To an observer, that might appear to be where it all ends. As an active participant, however, you’ll see there is a lot more going on than simply flinging an arrow toward a target.
The benefits of archery extend far beyond the act of merely shooting, and they work for us both on a mental and physical level providing both great exercise and stress release. If that sounds like something worth checking out, then read on to discover five health benefits that archery offers participants.
Several years ago, I got a random call from a production company to be the talent in a bowhunting commercial for a big-box store. During the shoot, one of the fellows in charge was watching me shoot my bow over and over. He asked if he could try it, so I handed him the bow but told him he might not be able to draw it back.
He was shocked at the suggestion, but even though he was a couple of inches taller than me (and I’m not short) and also a former college football player, he couldn’t draw it back. He was amazed that I could draw the bow dozens and dozens of times and he couldn’t even come to full draw with it once.
The thing is, archery involves a lot of back muscles and some shoulder muscles that get very little use in our everyday lives. If they aren’t developed, you’ll have to start with a very low draw weight. That’s okay, that’s how it’s supposed to go. You’ll soon realize that you want to be able to shoot heavier draw weight and that is a good incentive to keep shooting and, for many folks, to start working on their back and core muscles. That’s a good thing for anyone.
Mental focus is tough to come by these days because we have so many distractions in our lives. The thing is, really focusing on one thing is healthy for us. It’s good for us mentally to be able to home in on a single task and see it through. It’s also good for us to tune out the white noise of the world and put our whole attention on something as simple as shooting a bow.
Just like running four or five miles, doing a hot yoga session, or meditating for 20 minutes a day, shooting a bow can help you feel more relaxed and centered.
It sounds like hippie nonsense, but it’s not. It’s beneficial to our mental health to settle into a task and focus on it with all of our mental bandwidth.
Buried deep in the three pounds of gray matter between our ears we have reward centers that fire off a drip of dopamine when things go right. Social media has hacked this to give us a little hit when we get a “like,” but that’s not the best way to go about getting a daily fix.
A better strategy is to trigger your reward center, that evolved during the days when we were scrounging the forests for our next meal, by accomplishing something challenging. Making a good shot with a bow is a challenge; making six of them in a row is even better.
Our minds crave tasks that are difficult so that we can feel accomplished when we achieve them. Archery is ideal for this, and it’s one of the reasons that when people start to shoot, many of them never stop. It’s also why so many archery enthusiasts are devout recruiters to the activity.
Mental health has been studied a lot, for obvious reasons. What makes us happy or, just as important, sad, matters to us. While results vary depending on a litany of variables, a common theme is that getting exercise in the outdoors is a major contributor to individual happiness.
Archery allows you to do just that, and while shooting at a target in your backyard is better than indoor time spent flinging, a better option is to visit a 3D course.
Shooting a dozen or more targets while hiking up and down hills and through the woods is hard to beat. It combines the outdoors with a bit of exercise and the joy of archery.
Q: What’s better than experiencing something rewarding by yourself?
A: Sharing it with like-minded individuals.
While we are connected to the world at large via our cell phones and tablets, we still cling to tribalism in many facets of our lives. We love being a part of a small group because it makes us happy. It makes us happier if that small group is working toward a common goal, like shooting a couple of dozen arrows well.
Socializing around a positive activity is something we’re all drawn to at an early age. The need for it, and the enjoyment of it, don’t go away as we get older although finding simple opportunities to bond with our peers around something we all like can become more difficult to find.
The good news is, your local archery shop will probably have a league night. Or, you might just form your own little group of like-minded archery enthusiasts to meet up with once a week at the outdoor range. Be with people who enjoy what you enjoy, and everyone will benefit.
Archery is fun, rewarding and good for us. If you’re looking for a new hobby or have always been interested in shooting a bow, give it a try. You just might find that there is a lot going on every time you get ready to shoot a few arrows, and over time, that the act itself will become both physically and mentally rewarding.
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About the Author: Tony J. Peterson has written hundreds of articles for over two dozen national and local publications. Although he covers topics related to all forms of hunting and fishing, his passion lies in do-it-yourself bowhunting for whitetail deer and western big game. Peterson is an accomplished outdoor photographer and currently serves as the Equipment Editor for Bowhunter magazine and Bowhunter TV.