As it turns out, you don’t have to have a gym membership, log running mileage every week, or master a pull-up to experience the life-lengthening benefits of being active. In fact, all you have to do is take up a sport you probably haven’t played since freshman year P.T. class.
New research published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine lists numerous exercises and sports that increase your life span the most. And surprisingly, racquet sports like tennis ranked high on the list. Tennis topped the list, coming in with a potential to lower your risk of death from heart disease and stroke by 56 percent just by playing the sport for a few hours each week.
The truth is, people think that in order to get the benefits of an activity that you have to be hardcore or an expert at it,” says Melissa Leber MD, assistant professor in the department of orthopaedics at Mount Sinai. “But doing something once or twice a week is enough — a few hours a week total can be enough to receive the health benefits. You just need to remember that something is better than nothing.”
The large-scale study didn’t just analyze country club members, but included 80,306 adults with an average age of 52, who were all quizzed about what type and how much physical activity they had done in the preceding four weeks, and whether it had been enough to make them breathless and sweaty. By the end of the four-week study, for those survey respondents who said they had not done a given sport, risk of death from any cause was 47 percent lower among those who played racquet sports, 28 percent lower among swimmers, 27 percent lower among aerobics fans, and 15 percent lower among cyclists.
Researchers concluded: “These findings demonstrate that participation in specific sports may have significant benefits for public health,” adding that they should help health professionals to bang the drum for getting involved in regular sports as a good way of staying healthy.
“There is a huge increase in doing interval training in gyms and structured workouts,” says Leber. “But fundamentally, playing tennis is like doing intervals — you’re sprinting and pivoting and giving big, short bursts of energy.” In fact, playing tennis for one hour burns up to 600 calories and engages every part of your musculature. That means you can forgo the gym and go play tennis this weekend and be better off for it.