Only Three Sports Affect Long-Term Health, finds new research

Only Three Sports Affect Long-Term Health, finds new research
Only Three Sports Affect Long-Term Health, finds new research

Playing tennis, squash and other racket sports is associated with almost 50% lower risk of premature death.

Scientists have found that certain sports offer more health benefits than others and can help people live longer.

In this large-scale study, researchers from the UK, Finland, and Australia studied data collected via survey from more than 80,000 adults over the age of 30 in England and Scotland, between 1994 and 2008. In an initial survey, participants answered questions about their health and exercise routines, and about 9 years later, the researchers conducted an additional survey to see how many participants had died.

Across the board, exercise rates among participants were rather dismal, with only 44 percent getting the amount of exercise that authorities recommend (150 minutes of moderate exercise per week). Among people who did exercise, some forms of physical activity seemed to have a larger impact on participants’ risk of death than others.

“We found that there is definitely a reduction in your risk of dying from all causes if you are a cyclist, if you did aerobics, if you are a swimmer and if you did racquet sports,” study co-author Charlie Foster of Oxford University told TODAY. “We oddly didn’t find any reduction in risk from running or football [soccer].” The study reports that participants who cycled had a 15 percent lower risk of death than those who didn’t. Swimmers and people who did aerobics and dance had a reduced risk of death of 28 and 27 percent, respectively. Rackets sports like tennis and squash had a major impact on longevity, reducing the risk of death by 47 percent. Running, soccer, and rugby, in contrast, didn’t seem to have much effect on risk of death at all.

That doesn’t mean, however, that you should stop running or playing team sports. There are a number of theories as to why these sports didn’t appear to impact longevity among study participants. One issue might simply have been that people who play team sports tend to be younger, and so not very many of them died in the 9-year span of the study. Foster told The Telegraph, “We had a younger group of team sports players and runners and we may not have enough deaths to see a difference at this point in time, another five years and we will know with more precision.”

Foster also suggested that people who play team sports like soccer may have a hard time transitioning to new forms of exercise when they stop playing on the team, while other sports, like swimming, may have a more continuous following. He said that racket sports, for instance, are physically good for health, but they “also offer additional mental health and social benefits perhaps unique to these sports.”

Although the study raises interesting questions of how different types of physical activity affect lifespan, experts warn that the takeaway should not be to stop running or playing soccer, if those are your preferred forms of exercise. Dr. Mike Knapton, Associate Medical Director of the British Heart Foundation, told The Telegraph, “If you enjoy running or football, do not let these finding put you off.” Foster’s advice to TODAY was simple: “Find something you love, do it with people you love, and it will serve you well.”


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