Tennis might just be the best thing you can do to extend your life.
A new study published just last week by Peter Schnohr and colleagues shows that playing tennis may extend your life by nearly 10 years. That’s a remarkably big benefit, one that even the study authors were surprised at.
It’s been well-established for a while now that exercise helps you live longer. For example, the Cardiovascular Health Study found that people over the age of 75 can gain 1 to 1.5 years by being active rather than sedentary. Other studies have looked at the effects of running or walking and found similar positive benefits.
The authors of the new study wanted to look at other sports activities, not just running. Using a large cohort of 20,000 healthy people in the Copenhagen City Heart Study, they identified 8,577 who were in the study from the early 1990s until 2017 and who met a variety of other criteria for inclusion. This gave them 25 years of follow-up, long enough to ask the question: how does participation in sports affect life expectancy?
In particular, they looked at tennis, badminton, soccer, jogging, cycling, calisthenics, swimming, and health club activities (which included treadmills, ellipticals, and weights).
The bottom line: compared to a sedentary lifestyle, playing tennis extends one’s life expectancy by 9.7 years. The other sports all provided benefits too, though tennis was the clear winner. Here’s a summary:
- Tennis: 9.7 years gain in life expectancy
- Badminton: 6.2 years
- Soccer: 4.7 years
- Cycling: 3.7 years
- Swimming: 3.4 years
- Jogging: 3.2 years
- Calisthenics: 3.1 years
- Health club activities: 1.5 years
The authors didn’t expect tennis to do so well, as you can see in this quote:
“Surprisingly, we found that tennis players had the longest expected lifetime among the 8 different sports.”
For those who don’t read scientific papers regularly, I should point out that the word “surprisingly” rarely gets past the editors unless the result truly is surprising. One part of the surprise is that spending more time exercising did not correlate with the greatest benefits. In fact, the cohort of people who spent the longest time on their exercise was the health club group, who showed the smallest increase in longevity.
One possible reason for tennis, badminton, and soccer doing so well is that out of the 8 sports studied, these are the ones that require 2 or more people and involve social interaction. As the authors explain, “Belonging to a group that meets regularly promotes a sense of support, trust, and commonality, which has been shown to contribute to a sense of well-being and improved long-term health.”
Or it might be that the type of exercise you get in tennis – short bursts of activity rather than slow, steady plodding exercise – might be better for you. The authors noted that “short repeated intervals of higher intensity exercise appear to be superior to continuous moderate-intensity physical activity for improving health outcomes.”
If you’re still skeptical, the only other study similar to this undertaken in Great Britain published last year, came to the same conclusion: racquet sports had the greatest benefit on all-cause mortality, followed by swimming and aerobics.
So, if you’re not doing it already, take up tennis! It’s easy to find clinics and teams at almost any level at Baywood Racquet Club thanks to the USTA leagues we are involved with and our adult clinics with play ranging from beginners on up, and age groups up to 85 and even 90.
That’s right, there are tennis leagues for the 90-and-over set. Maybe tennis players really do live longer. Come and join the tennis scene at Baywood Racquet Club.