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Sports that help you live longer

May 2019

It improves your blood pressure, acts as a cure-all for your heart, and regulates your blood sugar levels. Playing sport, whether at professional or amateur level, is good for your physical and mental health. But not all sports offer the same benefits. According to a recent study, tennis, aerobics and swimming are the best activities for lowering your risk of dying. Here’s why.

The study

A study conducted by the UKK Institute in Tampere, Finland, and published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine  has revealed the sports that help you live longer. Researchers analysed the routines of 80,306 people in England and Scotland between 1994 and 2008. They discovered that people who tried their hand at tennis, swimming and aerobics had a lower mortality rate, being almost 50% less likely to die from cardiovascular diseases than people who didn’t play sport. “There is a lot of evidence that proves how exercise is good for our health. But the World Health Organisation recommends generic physical activity, without any specific advice”, explains one of the authors of the study. The team of researchers therefore decided to involve men and women with an average age of 52: after nine years, the researchers recorded the number of deaths that had occurred within the analysed sample: 8,790 deaths, including 1,909 from heart disease and, notably, a high percentage of these people had a sedentary lifestyle. 



Sports that help you live longer

The UKK Institute team compared the mortality rates among active and non-active participants. They discovered that any exercise had an effect on people’s life expectancy, reducing their risk of dying by up to 28%. The study isolated three sports that proved to be particularly beneficial: people who played tennis regularly had a 47% lower mortality rate than people with sedentary lifestyles, especially when it came to the onset of heart disease. The percentage drops to 28% for swimmers and to 27% for people who performed aerobics regularly over the time period.  



And what about running?

Surprisingly, runners didn’t prove to have a drastically lower mortality rate during the study (only 13%), but Doctor Pekka Oja, one of the authors of the research, says this could be explained by the fact that most of the runners studied were younger than those who played other sports. To obtain the real figures, it would therefore be necessary to monitor how their health progressed over a long period of time and to assess their mortality rates in a more reliable way. Cycling also shouldn’t be underestimated, given that it reduces cyclists’ mortality rate by 10%. Although, according to the experts, it doesn’t reduce the risk of heart disease. 



100 minutes a week

But how much regular sport do you have to play to enjoy significant improvements in terms of life expectancy and quality? The WHO, World Health Organisation, recommends at least 150 minutes of exercise a week for adults and 60 a day for children and young people. However, experts from the Science in Nutrition International Congress have a different recommendation: 100 minutes a week are enough. Your workout time should be divided into sections: three aerobic sessions (one of 40 minutes at the weekend and two blocks of half an hour during the week) along with a bodyweight workout to stimulate the muscles and joint mobility. These 100 minutes of exercise a week should be combined with a low-calorie diet and stress-relieving techniques.