As part of the Copenhagen City Heart Study, researchers took data from 8,500 Caucasian adults, who had never experienced heart disease, stroke or cancer. The participants were all asked to complete a comprehensive health and lifestyle questionnaire, which included info on their main form of exercise and how often they did it. They were then closely monitored over a period of 25 years (during which time around 4,500 of them passed away).
Interestingly, in the paper – published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings - researchers established a clear link between social sports and a longer life. In comparison to sedentary people, the tennis enthusiasts added 9.7 years to their lifespan.
This was followed by badminton (6.2 years), soccer (4.7 years), cycling (3.7 years), swimming (3.4 years) and jogging (3.2 years).
This was put down to two things: as exercising with a partner is more enjoyable, it promotes better mental health and also increases a person’s chance of sticking to it long-term.
“When we try to just go and work out to get our heart rate up, it still feels good, but it doesn’t leave you as relaxed and happy as, say, going to play a game of basketball or golf,” explained Dr James O’Keefe, a cardiologist at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute and the study’s co-author.
“Any exercise is better than none. But when our physical activity also allows us to play, it basically magnifies the benefits, because you get not only the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular benefits of physical exercise, but you also get that emotional bonding, which turns out to be probably just as important.”
“For both mental and physical wellbeing and longevity, we’re understanding that our social connections are probably the single-most important feature of living a long, healthy, happy life.”