Recent studies show that some types of physical activity are more effective than others in terms of longevity. We tell you what kind of sports it is better to do in order to prolong life.
Experts like to say that the best kind of exercises are the ones you actually do. However, a new study has shown that there is still a difference, and people who engage in team sports may have an advantage over those who engage in physical activity alone.
According to a study published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, social interaction associated with partner and team sports can enhance the numerous benefits of physical activity by adding more years to your life than single activities. According to the results, tennis, badminton and football contribute to longevity better than cycling, swimming, jogging or just exercising in the gym.
“For both mental and physical well—being and longevity, our social connections are probably the most important feature of a long, healthy and happy life,” says Dr. James O’Keefe, a cardiologist at St. Luke’s Heart Institute and co-author of the study. “If you are interested in exercise for health, longevity and wellness, perhaps the most important feature of your exercise regime should be that it should include time for games.”
The Copenhagen City Heart Study analyzed data from about 8,500 adults. All of them were white, no one had a history of heart disease, stroke or cancer, so the results may be limited to this narrow population. Participants completed an exhaustive questionnaire about health and lifestyle, which included questions about the type and frequency of physical activity. The subjects were observed for about 25 years, during which time about 4,500 people died.
Although many participants reported that they perform several types of physical exercises every week, they were asked to indicate one of them as the main, prevailing one. The researchers used these responses to identify links between sports and longevity, and adjusted for factors such as socioeconomic status, education, and alcohol consumption. After that, they noticed a clear correlation between team or pair sports and longevity. Compared with people who lead a sedentary lifestyle, they found that those who indicated that they played tennis as the main type of exercise could increase their life expectancy by 9.7 years, followed by badminton from 6.2 years and football from 4.7 years. Single sports are also effective, but to a lesser extent: cycling can add 3.7 years to life expectancy, swimming – 3.4 years, jogging – 3.2 years, rhythmic gymnastics – 3.1 years, and gym classes – 1.5 years.
The amount of time the subjects spent on sports varied markedly, but it did not significantly affect the results. Those who played tennis as their main sport devoted about 520 minutes a week to physical activity, but only about 100 of these minutes were devoted to tennis. Meanwhile, health club classes ranked last in terms of life expectancy, although gym-goers reported the greatest weekly activity overall: almost 600 minutes in total, and about 150 of them were spent in the gym.
Running and weight lifting continue to prolong your life and offer many other health benefits, from endurance development to cardiovascular health. But, according to the co-author of the study, in order to get optimal benefits, gym visitors may think about supplementing these workouts with activities that promote the development of social ties. “Any exercise is better than nothing,” says James O’Keefe— “but when our physical activity also allows us to play, it basically increases the benefits, because not only do you get benefits for the musculoskeletal system and cardiovascular system from exercise, but you also get an emotional connection, which turns out to be no less important.”
Many studies confirm the link between social interaction and good health, including a recent paper published in The Lancet. She demonstrated that team sports can be considered the best physical activity for mental health. As James O’Keefe says, exercising with a partner tends to be more enjoyable than exercising alone, which has the potential to improve mental health and increase engagement in training in the long run.
Numerous studies have also shown that moderate physical activity, as a rule, is just as good or even better for longevity than active activities, which over time can negatively affect the body. Running, for example, was one of them. “When we try to just go and work out to increase our heart rate, it’s good—” says O’Keefe, “But it doesn’t make you as relaxed and happy as, say, playing basketball or golf.” It seems that tennis took the first place in all indicators due to its interactivity. “You talk all the time. It’s just a very natural way to connect emotionally with people, in addition to physical exercise,” James states, adding that the study may not have been able to fully explain the fact that more affluent and educated people — who are often initially healthier — are more likely to choose tennis.
O’Keefe himself, whose training regime usually included running and lifting weights, says that thanks to the study, he changed his strategy: he and his family became interested in badminton. “It’s impossible to play badminton without feeling like a kid again—” he says. “It’s just fun.”