Her Life Depends On It III & Women’s Health and Physical Activity

An ever-evolving and growing body of research supports the important health conclusion that a physically active lifestyle lowers risk for a host of chronic illnesses that adversely affect women’s lives, including heart disease, certain cancers, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s disease.

On May 12, 2015, the Women’s Sports Foundation released its third edition of Her Life Depends On It, a comprehensive look at the links between participation in sport and physical activity and the health and well-being of American girls and women. The report is compiled from more than 1,500 studies examining women’s athletics and health, and research shows that for girls and women, the pathway to living a strong and healthy life is paved in part by participation in sport and  physical activity. Whether being armed to conquer the physical challenges of daily living or developing the mental fortitude to overcome life’s obstacles and inner struggles, the more active girls and women are, the more prepared they are to reach their goals, handle what life presents to them, and draw upon their own power when necessary.

Keep reading for Brief highlights or download the full resource below to learn exactly how living an active life impacts both the physical and mental health of girls and women of all backgrounds.

Cancer: “Women who took better care of themselves showed a 17% lower risk of any cancer, 22% lower risk of breast cancer, 52% lower risk of colorectal cancer, 27% lower risk of all-cause mortality, and 20% lower risk of cancer-specific mortality.”1

Obesity: “Girls who are more sedentary are more likely to be overweight than boys who are sedentary2, urging the need to address the fewer opportunities for sport and physical activity participation for girls and issues of access to those opportunities.”

Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia: “In general, the more physically active, the more likely a person would not experience cognitive decline later on in their life.”3

Exercise: “Exercise has the capacity to stimulate the creation of brain-derived neurotropic factor, which aids in the repair of neurons and the generation of new neurons.”4

End Notes:
1 Thomson et al., 2014; 2 Velde et al., 2007; 3 Carvalho et al., 2014; 4 Warren, 2013

Her Life Depends On It 3 Women's Health Resource (PDF 534k)

Her Life Depends On It III

Her Life Depends On It III is the Women’s Sports Foundation’s comprehensive report that reviews existing and emerging research on the links between participation in sport and physical activity and the health and wellbeing of American girls and women. As with the previous editions in 2004 and 2009, this study also confirms that physical activity and sport provides the critical foundation, in no small part, that allows girls and women to lead healthy, strong, and fulfilled lives. Ten years since its first publication, the updated Her Life Depends On It provides an even more comprehensive review of the ever-expanding body of research that demonstrates how important it is for girls and women to participate in sport and physical activity. The report’s contents reflect the review of 1,500 studies, nearly 400 covered since the previous edition.

Read the Her Life Depends On It III Executive Summary here.
Read the Her Life Depends On It III Official Press Release here.


To assist readers who have specific interests, the WSF has created a series of Research Briefs from Her Life Depends On It III on the following topics:

Academic Progress and Sports and Physical Activity
Collegiate Coaching and Athletic Administration
Female Athletes and Knee Injuries
Female Athlete Triad
Girls and Women of Color in Sports and Physical Activity
Health Factors Impacted by Sports and Physical Activity
Women in Sports Leadership

Her Life Depends On It III Full Report (PDF 1540k)

More Than A Sport: Tennis, Education, and Health

This report presents the major findings from a first-of-its-kind nationwide study that compares the educational and health profiles of adolescent tennis participants with participants in other non-contact sports and contact sports, as well as high school students who do not participate in sports. The study was conducted by the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF) on behalf of the USTA Foundation (formerly USTA Serves).

More Than A Sport: Tennis, Education, and Health (PDF 4398k)

Concussion Articles, Positions and Resources

Athlete Advisory Panel member Lyn-z Adams Hawkins Pastrana sports her WSF pride on her skateboard helmet as she competes in the 2010 Dew Tour in Boston. (Photo by: Michael Leonhard)

Concussion Articles, Positions and Resources

 Concussion Articles

Football not only sport concussion risk for teens

Girls’ Soccer Second to Football for High School Sports Concussion

Concussion Rates Rising in Younger Athletes

AAN: Put Concussion Experts on the Front Line of Sports

Female Athletes’ Concussion Symptoms May Be Overlooked

Concussion Symptoms May Differ in Girls and Boys

Concussion Position Statements

American Academy of Neurology Position Statement on Sports Concussion

National Athletic Trainers’ Association Position Statement on Management of Sport-Related Concussion

Concussion Resources

NFHS Free Course: Concussion in Sports – What You Need To Know

Suggested Guidelines for Concussion Management in Sport – a publication from the NFHS

Questions vital to diagnosing concussions – Q& A and a video from an ESPN special on concussions

Fact Sheets for Parents, Coaches and Athletes – OHSSA

Recognizing Sports Concussions – Video from the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association

Resources to Prevent and Recognize Concussions – Centers for Disease Control

CDC “Heads Up” Youth Sports Campaign – a wealth of information on sports-related concussions for athletes, parents, coaches, athletic administrators, and athletic trainers – Information for parents, coaches, and schools on sports-related concussions

UB Specialized Exercise Regimen Shown to Relieve Prolonged Concussion Symptoms – University of Buffalo

Sports Legacy Institute – The mission of the Sports Legacy Institute is to advance the study, treatment and prevention of the effects of brain trauma in athletes and other at-risk groups

*This list is for reference only. The Women’s Sports Foundation does not endorse any specific companies, products, or training programs.


Female Athletes and Concussions

The number of sports related concussions appears to be increasing and there is a growing interest in sport related concussions (McKeever & Schatz, 2003). Because of the possibility of neurological damage, traumatic brain injuries are particularly serious and warrant attention. While much of the research on concussions focuses on men’s football and hockey, there is more analyses of concussions in women’s sport appearing. Obtaining sound data on the incidence of concussions is complicated by variability in reporting and diagnosis. Emerging research in prevention and training practices show that gender-conscious approaches to physical training and conditioning for female athletes help to reduce the likelihood of concussions.

Facts and Research Findings

  • Females participating in high school sports now have a higher incidence rate of sport-related concussions than do males (Gessel et al., 2007; Powell & Barber-Foss, 1999; Covassin et al., 2003)
  • Among women’s sports, the highest incidence of concussions occurs in soccer (Covassin et al., 2003; Gessel et al., 2007).
  • In a ranking of high school and college sports on the basis of concussions as a percentage of all injuries, women’s soccer and basketball ranked highest, followed by football and men’s soccer (Gessel et al., 2007).
  • In soccer and basketball, at both high school and collegiate levels females sustain higher rates of concussions than males (Hootman, Dick & Agel, 2007; Covassin et al., Gessel et al., 2007).
  • Among collegiate ice hockey players, women sustain higher levels of concussions than men (Hootman, Dick & Agel, 2007).
  • Younger athletes appear to be at increased risk for concussions. This may be the result of younger brains being more susceptible to traumatic brain injury but there is no conclusive evidence on the reasons for the increased susceptibility (Covassin et al., 2003; Gessel et al., 2007; McKeever & Schatz, 2003).
  • Research on risk factors for concussions is at a preliminary stage. In attempting to explain the observed sex differences in concussion rates, attention is being directed to biomechanical, neuroanatomical and neuromuscular factors but little is known about this topic (Covassin et al. 2003; Gessel et al., 2007; McKeever & Schatz, 2003).
  • There is need for a more widespread understanding of the potentially dangerous impart of concussions in sport (McKeever & Schatz, 2003)

Explore Further with Concussion Articles, Position Statements and Other Resources >>>

Covassin, T., Swanik, C. B., & Sachs, M. L. (2003). Sex differences and the incidence of concussions among collegiate athletes. Journal of Athletic Training, 38(3), 238-244.

Covassin, T., Swanik, C. B., & Sachs, M. L. (2003). Epidemiological considerations of concussions among intercollegiate athletes. Applied Neuropsychology, 10(1), 12-22.

Gessel, L. M., Fields, S. K., Collins, C. L., Dick, R. W., & Comstock, R. D. (2007). Concussions among united states high school and collegiate athletes. Journal of Athletic Training, 42(4), 495-503.

McKeever, C. K., & Schatz, P. (2003). Current issues in the identification, assessment, and management of concussions in sports-related injuries. Applied Neuropsychology, 10(1), 4-11.

Powell JW, Barber-Foss K. Traumatic brain injury in high school athletes. JAMA. 1999;282(10):958-963.

*Excerpted and adapted from Staurowsky, E. J., DeSousa, M. J., Ducher, G., Gentner, N., Miller, K. E., Shakib, S., Theberge, N., & Williams, N. (2009). Her Life Depends On It II: Sport, Physical Activity, and the Health and Well-Being of American Girls and Women. East Meadow, NY: Women’s Sports Foundation.


Her Life Depends on It II

In December 2009 the Women’s Sports Foundation released a new and expanded comprehensive review of its essential “Her Life Depends On It” report, first released in 2004. The benchmark 2009 review draws critical conclusions that further emphasize the vital roles that sports play in the physical and social health of girls and women. The report is compiled from more than 2,000 studies examining women’s athletics and health, including hundreds of new studies conducted in the five years since the last report was released.

Her Life Depends on It II

Go Out and Play – Athletic Participation and Children’s Well-Being

To assist readers who have specific interests, the WSF has created a series of research briefs from Go Out & Play: Youth Sports in America.

Go Out and Play: Youth Sports in America is a comprehensive research report that covers a range of topics including how athletic participation impacts children’s health. The report explored a variety of ways that sports involvement intersects with the overall development of girls and boys. Here “health and well-being” are broadly defined to include physical health, emotional health and successful social adaptation in school. The results show that for many U.S. children, athletic participation contributes to general health and body esteem, healthy weight, social relationships, higher quality of life, and educational achievement.

Go Out and Play - Athletic Participation and Children's Well-Being

Go Out and Play

This study measures the nationwide participation rates of girls and boys in exercise and organized team sports. The central focus is on how the intersections among families, schools and communities are related to children’s involvement and interest in athletics and physical activity. Some of the personal and social benefits associated with children’s athletic participation are also identified and discussed. The athletic interests and involvements of girls and boys are examined from childhood through late adolescence, including entry into sport as well as drop-out patterns.

Read the Executive Summary here.


To assist readers who have specific interests, the WSF has created a series of Research Briefs from Go Out and Play on the following topics:

Go Out and Play – Athletic Participation and Children’s Well-Being
Go Out and Play – Entry Into Sports, Dropping Out of Sports
Go Out and Play – Gender Equity in Sports
Go Out and Play – Interest in Sports and Physical Activity
Go Out and Play – Participation in Sports and Exercise Activities
Go Out and Play – Participation in Team or Organized Sport
Go Out and Play – Physical Education
Go Out and Play – Sports, Exercise and Family Life
Go Out and Play – Understudied Populations
Go Out and Play – Conclusion and Policy Recommendations
Go Out and Play – Youth Sports in America – Full Report One Pager

Go Out and Play: Youth Sports in America

The Winning Goal: Battling Sexual Harassment

In the fall of 2007, *Sue came home sobbing, telling us that the assistant coach of her travel team had been in a relationship with her best friend on the team and that she had kept this secret from everyone and us for the last year.

We knew Sue was being bullied by her coaches, a father and son duo. We suggested she not play for these coaches, but she was loyal to her teammates and thought she could make it.

Looking back, we were very naïve and foolish. The coaches were bullying Sue because she was challenging the unethical behavior of the assistant coach. As evidence of this, during Sue’s last practice, the head coach called a meeting in which he demeaned and devalued Sue without really naming her. Sue asserted herself, spoke up and said, “All the coaches needed to meet with the seniors from the team because something happened last year that was never discussed and had a big impact on the team and players.” His response was to yell at her, kick her out of practice and express that her future with the team was in jeopardy.

When we heard why Sue had been so upset all year and how abusive the coaches had been to her and her friend, we were shocked. How could coaches do something like this?

We withdrew her from the team the same night she told us about the secret, but the damaging truth related to this unethical coaching situation unfolded slowly over the next year and still reverberates both for Sue, our family and others impacted by this tragic event.

For us, the most shocking revelation was that shortly after Sue discovered the coach’s unethical behavior, he manipulated himself into a private meeting with her, probed what she knew about his behavior, and then told her she had to “keep it a secret…because he could get into a lot of trouble.”

The assistant coach’s pressuring of Sue occurred around November of 2006. Sue kept the secret until September of 2007. She felt enormous pressure during that time, and we could see it both in her emotional stress at home and the way she became disconnected from her good friend and other teammates. We never imagined that the root of these changes was the fact that Sue and her friend were victims of sexual harassment by the assistant coach.

After we went public with our knowledge, Sue became even more marginalized on the team. The anger of the other parents towards our family became overt. Plus, the assistant coach continued to have a relationship with Sue’s friend even after our family filed our complaint with the assistant coach’s father and later the state youth soccer association.

In withdrawing Sue from the team, we explicitly accused the assistant coach of creating an unethical, personal relationship with a minor player. We expected the head coach to be shocked, and then take action in support of our allegation. Instead, he wrote back in an aggressive and demeaning manner accusing our daughter of having psychological problems and that he should have kicked her off the team a year earlier.

Regarding the allegation of the unethical behavior of his son, he wrote, “… I understand that you are hurting, and angry, and protective of your child. So, I must just say that you don’t know what I know or what I don’t know.” We read this in shock and disbelief.

We began a limited effort to gain support from other families. Two families from the team and another family from outside the team were instrumental in supporting our family. To them we are truly grateful. They also stood up against a lot of adversity to tell the truth. However, it is important to note that several key parents openly supported the coaches and discouraged us from pursuing our complaint.

Parents comments ranged from “you are making too much of this, just let the girls play soccer” to “your family ruined the season for the other girls and damaged their opportunity to get college scholarships.” And by now, the coaches were actively spreading rumors that we were making false accusations about them and they were completely innocent of any wrongdoing.

Naïvely, we were totally surprised by the lack of support we received from other parents. Even the president of the league where the traveling team and coaches were registered refused to take a complaint from us. We were told, “If you file that complaint, you will be sued.”

Feeling a bit lost, we began to search for support. We found the Women’s Sports Foundation’s policy statement, “Sexual Harassment and Sexual Relationships between Coaches, Other Athletic Personnel and Athletes: The Women’s Sports Foundation Position.”

The paper helped us realize that finally, there is someone else in the world that believes female athletes young and old should be able to play sports without the fear of sexual harassment of any kind. The Foundation gave us expert guidance and most importantly support.

We also found support in the U.S. Youth Soccer Association and the Illinois State Youth Soccer Association, which ultimately held a public hearing of our complaint. The state youth soccer association hearing panel sanctioned the assistant coach for his inappropriate coaching behavior and rebuked the head coach for not conducting an investigation after we notified him in writing about our concerns.

Sadly, this story about sexual harassment still shocks and amazes many parents today, but the reality is that it occurs too frequently. People often think of sexual harassment occurring in a workplace environment, but fail to realize that a soccer field or basketball court is the workplace environment for a coach. The Foundation still receives many calls about sexual harassment of athletes and has been helping parents fight back against this injustice.

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.

Addressing the Health and Physical Activity Needs of Girls in the Boston Metropolitan Area

This report examines girls’ level of participation in sports and physical activity in the Boston metropolitan area and its relation to girls’ health. Girls’ sports and physical activity delivery systems, as well as public policy affecting the availability of such systems are reviewed.

Read the Executive Summary here or the full report below.

Addressing the Health and Physical Activity Needs of Girls in the Boston Metropolitan Area