Sports and Longevity: The Ball is in Your Court


It has become well known that an active lifestyle plays an important role in a person’s health and well-being.  But is one physical activity more beneficial than another? A group of Danish researchers conducted a study to find out. The answer was yes.

The study was based on 25 years of data collected from 8,577 participants in the Copenhagen City Heart Study, sponsored by the Danish Heart Foundation.  Among the study group, 12 percent reported a sedentary lifestyle with no physical activity, while 66 percent participated in at least one type of physical activity.

When compared to the sedentary group, sports that were associated with the greatest gains in life expectancy involved interval bursts of exercise. It engaged large muscle groups along with full body movements, according to study author and cardiologist Peter Schnohr, MD, DMSc of Frederiksberg Hospital in Copenhagen. Dr. Schnohr and six co-authors published the report in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

Activities associated with the longest life expectancy were racket sports. On average tennis players lived 9.7 years longer than the sedentary group and badminton players gained 6.2 years. Following was soccer (4.7 years), cycling (3.7 years), swimming (3.4 years), jogging (3.2 years), strength and toning or calisthenics (3.1 years) and health club activities (1.5 years.)

Interestingly, length of time engaged in an activity didn’t increase life expectancy.  For example, people who used gym equipment like treadmills, stair climbers and stationary bikes had the shortest lifespan benefit even though they worked out an average of 2.5 hours per week. In contrast, tennis players who played an average 1.7 hours per week had the greatest gains.  Moreover, sports that involved social interaction, whether team sports or sports with partners and opponents, were associated with the greatest improvements in longevity. However, because this is an observational study, the authors caution that the relationship between certain sports and longevity warrants further investigation.  People who don’t play tennis or badminton shouldn’t lost heart, though.  Noted Sports ONS Medicine Specialist, Dr. Marc Kowalsky, “The best exercise is the one you actually do.”