Playing a Sport Could Be the Secret to Living Longer, According to New Research

Men Playing Basketball
 Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

By now you probably know that eating a balanced diet, shrinking your love handles, and dropping that nasty smoking habit can all improve the length and quality of your life. But is there a specific type of exercise or training that can tack on even more years?

The answer, based on new research, is yes.

In the long-term, men who play sports—especially sports that require endurance training—tend to live longer than inactive men, according to a Finnish study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

In the study, researchers examined 900 former elite athletes and their brothers (all born between 1920 and 1965) to determine which one lived longer, healthier, and happier. (By comparing genetically similar brothers, the theory goes, researchers can isolate the effects of a fit lifestyle.)

Their findings? On average, the former elite athletes lived between two and three years longer than their nonathlete brothers. Athletic brothers also tended to be healthier, smoke less, and even have more positive overall moods. The results showed that endurance athletes in particular (like runners or cyclists) tended to live longer than power sports athletes (like lifters or rugby players).

“Genetic differences between athletes and brothers, aerobic training for endurance elite sports, and a healthier lifestyle may all contribute to reduced premature mortality,” says Titta Kontro, an author on the study. “These findings encourage both athletes and nonathletes to engage in sports at an older age.”

This new research only bolsters previous findings that joining a sports team or rec league can make you feel happy and young, and could even make you smarter. And if that’s not a reason to start a pick-up game of basketball with your buddies, or incorporate these tennis drills to get pro-level agility into your daily routine, we don’t know what it is.