Archery dates back at least 8,000 years, and for millennia the bow was a vital tool for hunters and warriors. As firearms became widespread in warfare in the Medieval period, the use of bows began to decline, and they stayed marginalised for a few hundred years. In Britain around 1800, archery began to find its place as a recreational pursuit of the upper classes, with tournaments, competitions and clubs springing up.
Recently, a couple of major film franchises have served to turbo-charge the growth of archery as a sport, as people get inspired by the exploits of Legolas in The Lord of the Rings film, and Katniss in The Hunger Games.
Archery is a very accessible sport that has many more health benefits than a lot of people realise. Drawing and firing a bow takes a good deal of strength and endurance, and a typical day involves a good deal of walking. The sport takes patience, coordination and a lot of focus, and as a result, can benefit mental health as much as physical health.
One of the sport’s most attractive features is its ability to be enjoyed by people of all ages and ability, including people with limited mobility or even sight. That makes it a great activity for all sorts of people including families, people who can’t access other sport and those looking for new ways to meet and socialise.
Stronger upper body
The main physical benefits of archery are concentrated in the upper body, as you’d expect. Repeatedly drawing a bow will work a wide range of muscles around the arms, shoulders, back and chest. The balance and composure required for consistent shooting also contribute to developing a strong core. Your hands and fingers get stronger, too, as well as gaining flexibility and dexterity – useful for all sorts of things.
Because there are several seconds of stress on the muscles when you draw the bow, the action can be similar to lifting weights and can produce similar results. It doesn’t work the lower body quite as much, but increased lower body strength does improve an archer’s results by improving stance, endurance and posture.
Improved general fitness
Over the course of a full day of shooting, there’s more movement involved than you might expect, including retrieving arrows and moving through a course during 3D shooting, for instance. By some estimates, an archer can walk five miles on a full competition day – and a study found that an archer who wins Olympic gold burns almost as many calories over the course of the competition as an athlete completing the women’s marathon. Of course, it’s in short bursts, but it adds up and contributes to cardiovascular health and lower body muscle development – and you’ll barely notice you’re doing it.
Being able to get your eyes, hands and body working in harmony is vital to good archery. The estimation of range, the timing of the release, and being able to bring your body to as steady a state as possible at the right moment takes a great deal of coordination. Better coordination means you become better at interpreting what your eyes see and more precise in your response to it. On the archery field, you’ll find your body gets better at executing what you intended it to do, leading to better accuracy and consistency. Coordination improves with practice and is useful in a ton of activities in life, from driving a car to building a house of cards!
Deeper and more consistent focus
Being a good archer requires you to be able to shut out distractions and quieten your mind on demand. It correlates very closely with mindfulness – in fact, practising archery will help you become more mindful in day-to-day life, and becoming more mindful will improve your archery. On the field, quieting your mind will help you steady your body and keep you attuned to what’s going on around you – like changes in the wind, for instance – and what’s happening with your body, such as your breathing. It also helps you ignore distractions, like how well your competitors are doing, helping you shoot at your best. Expressed like this, it almost sounds like archery is another form of meditation! Which is great, as the sport opens up opportunities to find more contentment, happiness and clarity in your life.
More reserves of patience
Archery is a sport that demands patience, and precision is the name of the game. Steadying your body sufficiently requires you to be calm, and being calm requires you to be able to take your time and patiently wait for the right moment – that confluence of factors such as your breathing and the wind all favourably lining up. Over time, archery helps a person develop more patience, which can have a lot of positive benefits in life more generally, including having a more relaxed outlook and being able to deal with difficult situations more confidently.
A better social life
Archery, for a bunch of reasons, is a very social sport. It helps that it’s physically inclusive, and it can be very collaborative as people learn from each other. Sociability isn’t what you’d first imagine when thinking about the health benefits of a sport, but it’s really important. Meeting people you might not normally mix with, and learning from them and teaching others, is a great way to continue developing your interpersonal skills. For some people, the sport also helps ward off isolation and loneliness – vital for mental and long-term physical health.
So, archery has a lot of health benefits including a few that aren’t immediately obvious. What’s possibly most interesting to a lot of people is how it interacts with good mental health as well as physical health. It’s satisfying knowing that shooting your bow can have so many positive impacts on your day-to-day life, and how meditating and practicing mindfulness can improve your shooting, too. Happy shooting!