What do tennis, racket ball and soccer have in common? What do jogging, swimming and biking have in common? You may see that you need at least one partner for each of the first three, and the other three are pretty much solo activities. But the other point is that people who participate in the first three tend, on average, to live longer than the people who participate in the latter three. They are all good forms of exercise and all contribute to longevity, but the team activities just do a better job of giving us more birthdays according to a number of research studies.
A 2017 study that followed 80,000 British men and women showed that those who played racket sports outlived those who were joggers. They originally had used this research to identify if the duration, strain or amount of jogging showed any differences in longevity, and the answer was yes those who were in the “happy medium” – not too strenuous and not too gentle – did live longer. On closer examination they further uncovered the greater benefit of racket sports over the solo sport of running.
The researchers looked to even more data to see if this general pattern would hold in other populations, and they discovered that a Danish study that encompassed a greater number of activities that people had described in questionnaires showed that people who engaged in more social or team sports like tennis, soccer and even badminton lived longer than the more solo athletes. And they tracked these individuals for 25 years. No surprise, those who had reported relatively little or no exercise during their lives did not survive as long as their more active counterparts. Cyclists who bilked four or more hours a week, for instance averaged almost four more years of longevity than those who chose to “sit out” their lives. Running added about 3.2 years when compared with their sedentary counterparts.
But tennis added nearly 10 years to players’ lives and badminton added 6.2 years. Soccer contributed 5 more years to players’ lives. Even when the researchers controlled for education, age and socioeconomic standing, this pattern held. It may be about the kind of cardiovascular benefit conferred by one sport over another according to the researchers, but they offered one more possible explanation. The sports that gave the greatest benefit in years also are team…or social…sports. Other research has often cited social isolation as one of the big detractors from both quality and quantity of life. Social engagement, they pointed out reduces stress at the same time one derives physical benefit from a sport. It seems to give new meaning to being “heart-healthy.” It is not just your pump that is healthier, so is your spirit, and both contribute to more birthdays.
Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.