FRIDAY, March 21, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- The best way to celebrate "March Madness" is to get out and shoot some hoops yourself, an expert says.
Watching the NCAA basketball tournament on television can be fun, but actually playing the game provides you with a number of health benefits, said Tim Howell, an assistant professor of physical therapy and athletic training at Saint Louis University.
Basketball is good for your heart because it can help you develop cardiovascular endurance and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke, he said in a university news release.
The game also helps develop both upper- and lower-body strength. Having strong muscles helps your balance and reduces your risk of falling, Howell said. You'll also lose fat. Depending on your intensity, you can burn 700 or more calories an hour when playing basketball.
Jumping and other physical demands of basketball help develop and improve bone health, Howell said. The stronger your bones, the less likely they are to break.
Basketball improves hand-eye coordination and helps build spatial awareness, which means your body knows where it is in space and time. Why is this important? Ask a cat, Howell said. Spatial awareness is why they always land on their feet.
Playing basketball and other sports also might help reduce stress and give you the opportunity to socialize, Howell said. People who are social are less likely to have depression, and also tend to have a stronger immune system.
It is always recommended, however, that people check with their doctor before starting any new exercise program.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute offers a guide to physical activity.