This Sport May Be the Best Workout for a Longer Life

by Jodi Helmer
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This Sport May Be the Best Workout for a Longer Life

It’s no secret that regular exercise is good for your health. Research has linked exercise to a host of benefits, ranging from weight control and stronger bones to improved heart health and enhanced immunity.

While all exercise is beneficial — a 2017 study found that even weekend warriors who crammed their 150 minutes of recommended weekly exercise into Saturdays and Sundays had significantly lowered their risk of cardiovascular and cancer deaths — certain sports may have more benefit than others.

New research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine analyzed data from more than 80,000 adults who participated in six common sports: swimming, cycling, aerobics, running, racquet sports and football, then assessed their risk of cardiovascular disease and premature death.

“There is compelling evidence on the health benefits of physical activity [but] little is known about the health effects of different sport disciplines, despite the the fact that millions and millions of people play sports,” says lead researcher Pekka Oja, PhD, of the UKK Institute for Health Promotion Research in Finland.

After assessing data from 1994–2006 and adjusting for factors like socioeconomic status and health habits like smoking and drinking, those who played racquet sports like tennis, squash and badminton had 47% lower risk of premature death from any cause and 56% lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease than those who participated in other sports.

Oja notes that while the reduction of risk was the largest among those who played racquet sports, participation in all four sports — cycling, swimming, aerobics and racquet sports — helped reduce the risk of premature death and heart disease substantially as opposed to not participating in these sports. In comparison, running and football also reduced the risk of death but the reduction was not statistically significant.


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Oja hopes the research will encourage people who aren’t currently active in these sports to give them a try. But the results, he says, don’t mean you should discount the importance of all forms of exercise or discontinue participating in other sports to take up tennis or squash.

“These are not the only sports beneficial for health,” he explains. “Being physically active in everyday life is sufficient for those who may not be interested in or capable of doing sports.”

And, if your workouts consist of solo sessions on the treadmill or individual sports like skiing and surfing, Oja notes that incorporating team sports into your activity schedule may be a good idea. “Perhaps additional benefits in sports participation are the psychological and social ‘kicks’ one experiences in doing them,” he says.



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  • aman210

    I wish you would have picked Racquetball or Squash to show case. You can fit four indoor or outdoor courts into the space for one tennis court and you can play them indoors all year round.

    • davedave12

      I wonder about the availability of indoor tennis court compared to racquetball since racquetball lost all the popularity it had 30 years ago

      • Irondoor

        The early morning racquetball group at my gym starts at 5 am. It seems to be popular with older guys.

    • thanks great! It seems to be popular with older guys.

      • Rod Bergren

        I know 15 or 20 kids that would disagree with you.

  • Janet May Kelley

    I began playing Pickleball last year and I love it. It is a great workout and a lot of us seniors are enjoying it . It has helped my arthritis and breathing . I am 76 years old and my advice to seniors is : KEEP MOVING.

  • Walter C. Frank

    I am 80 and the benefits of yoga , Pilates’s, or tai chi cannot be overlooked. Flexibility and balance are crucial as we age.

    • Chad Marcusen

      Yes, I agree, however the lack of competition could be a significant loss of motivation. Being driven by something outside our own ability is very important. I know of no other type of sport than tennis/racquet ball, where an older man can compete with others younger than himself for a longer period of time.

      • Darcey

        For an 80 year old, perhaps badminton would be the better choice, but kudos to Walter if he can play tennis. I would have thought it would be swimming, but I think you are right about the competition pushing one’s limits. I also think bursts are better than continuous activity, so racquet sport would work well for being relatively still then bursting forward and resting again, etc.

      • davedave12

        after thinking about this for half a second Golf (I know, no cardio in golf)

    • davedave12

      Yoga is a great addition to any sports training — after you take a number of classes (I just think I need to be in front of a teacher rather than a CD only) you can develop your own daily 15-20 min to stay flexible

  • These are activities that wealthy people take part in and the wealthy have more leisure, less anxiety, and access to better education, food and health care.

    • Deb Singer

      Riding a bike isn’t for just the wealthy. I bought a bike for $15. Our YMCA has deals for people with low income. One can buy a workout cd at Walmart. I’ve even seen them at Goodwill. So, one does not have to be wealthy to exercise.

    • Jim Jedeikin

      It says the study was adjusted for socioeconomic class and other factors.

      • davedave12

        I wonder how? Where did they find all the poor starving tennis players

  • Aarathi Nirmalan

    Football is on the list but not soccer?

    • Chad Marcusen

      Football is this context was soccer, it’s what the English say. North American Football is not a viable sport for conditioning as one ages.

  • Jeffrey Taverna

    Badminton? Seriously? This study sounds flawed.

  • Ethan Capers

    I’m often flummoxed when research gets reported like this. It is mentioned in a comment below that racquet sports tend to get played by people in higher SES categories and this is supported by research (Tudor-Locke, Johnson, Katzmarzyk, 2010; Scheerder, Vanreusel, Bart, 2005; Fischwick & Hayes, 1989). It is also true that people in higher SES categories live healthier lives due to influences like better education, better eating habits, stress management and a whole host of other health-influencing factors besides what sport they play.
    While there may be tennis courts in low SES neighborhoods, that land is more likely to be used for sport facilities that allow more people to play, especially in urban environments with high population densities. It is irresponsible and frustrating to see research interpreted like this without taking a critical eye to it’s context, in order to determine it’s overal imapct and meaning.

  • Shirlee Oscarson Webb

    My mom and dad died at age 85 and 90 and never exercised in their lifes…and just died of old age too…I run, swim arobics and weight classes ..I just hope I don’t live to be 120.;….

  • Dan Lewis

    Also not making sense to me is the statement: “In comparison, running and football also reduced the risk of death but the reduction was not statistically significant.”

    Football I can see, but running is not “statistically significant”? Really?

    • Chad Marcusen

      The impact to joints prevents a person from seriously participating as one ages. Athletes abuse their bodies especially at the higher levels. Futbol in particular damages knees, ankles, neck, back not to mention concussions and broken bones. I was forced to stop serious training at the age of 47 because of my knees and had stop participating completely at the age of 55 due to post concussion syndrome.

      • davedave12

        he said running “Football I can see, but running is not “statistically significant”? Really?” – running is bad for joints and tennis is not?? they are the same — all other sports have a lower risk of drowning compared to swimming

    • Dan Lewis

      It has since been pointef out that this was published in a British publication so football = soccer. So I am also baffled as to how football/soccer was not statistically significant.

      Moving on…

  • davedave12

    tennis definitely involves more different types of movements compared to just picking your feet up and putting them down again in running

  • davedave12

    cycling, for me, a sport in which I am always within three inches of sitting down is not going to work out — depending on where you live, a bike can be a great warm up, cool down to/from the park, tennis court running trail, gym

  • Ric Paul

    Pickleball meets the criteria but is easier and more fun than tennis!

  • Ric Paul

    Pickleball meets the criteria but is easier and more fun than tennis!

  • Angus McMahan

    I had two problems with this article. 1) it states that of the six sports racquet sports are the best. Okay, WHY? What are the reasons why these scored better? 2) The other five sports are not as good, apparently, but how do they rank against each other? In other words, what is the second best and third best sport and so on.

  • iman 3851

    I do believe that being flexible and having balance, is essential at any age, but more so as you grow older. I practice yoga for those very reasons.

  • Rick Wagner

    Raquetball was a fantastic sport for me. I was in peak physical condition spending at least 6-8 hrs a week on the court till 40. The knees finally gave out and after a few surgeries it was on to my new passion, cycling. Now my knees can’t stand to be away from cycling. It is the best activity I’ve found for all around health.