To Live Longer, Forget the Treadmill and Play Tennis

Diana Swift

September 21, 2018

Socially interactive leisure sports such as tennis, badminton, and soccer may translate to a considerably higher life expectancy than running alone on a treadmill, although a causal relationship could not be proven, an observational study has found.

Peter Schnohr, MD, DMSc, a cardiologist at Frederiksberg Hospital in Copenhagen, Denmark, and colleagues published their findings online September 4 in Mayo Clinic Proceedings>.

The researchers studied the link between longevity and eight leisure-time sports activities among 8577 participants from the population-based Copenhagen City Heart Study. In this cohort, 1042 (12%) reported being sedentary and 5674 (66%) reported playing at least one of the selected sports. All the sports studied were associated with a longer life span; however, tennis was linked to the top gain of 9.7 years.

"Although several authors have found that observational studies and randomized controlled studies usually produce similar results, our study was observational and not a randomized trial, and therefore, we cannot be sure that the associations observed in our study represent a causal relationship," the authors write.

Participants were followed for as long as 25 years from time of enrollment in 1991 to 1994 until 2017, during which period 4448 died. Compared with inactivity, variable-adjusted longevity gains varied from a low of 1.5 years for solitary health club activities such as lifting weights to 3.7 years for cycling, 4.7 years for soccer, and 6.2 years for badminton. The benefit from swimming came in at 3.4 years, and from jogging at 3.2 years, whereas calisthenics translated to a benefit of 3.1 years.

"This is in line with previous studies consistently showing that social isolation is among the strongest predictors of reduced life expectancy," the authors explain.

Social isolation has been reported to pose as much of a risk for premature death as traditional medical factors such as hypertension, and to increase the likelihood of cardiovascular events.

The study's sedentary group tended to be older, with a mean age of 61 years, whereas the youngest participants were soccer players, with a mean age of 39 years, followed by joggers with a mean age of 40 years. Overall, cycling was the most prevalent activity in the cohort, with 56% participation. Men predominated in soccer, tennis, and badminton, whereas women were more likely to swim or do calisthenics.

The average weekly volume for all sports activities was 411 minutes (approximately 7 hours), but varied widely from 58 minutes among swimmers to 386 minutes among cyclists, who devoted more than twice the time to pedaling as those participating in other sports. Tennis players spent an average of 103 minutes per week in their sport of choice.

The group that had the longest total duration of all activities combined was the group whose activity of choice was health club activities, with 599 minutes per week spent on all leisure type physical activities. This group experienced the smallest gain in terms of life expectancy, however.

"Possibly, the observed differences in mortality benefits were due to the differing social aspects of the various sports studied," the authors write.

Notably, tennis players more frequently had high household incomes and university degrees, parameters previously associated with healthier lifestyles.

Tennis players and joggers had the cohort's lowest body mass index, both 23 kg/m2.

The authors note that other studies show that golf is associated with robust health benefits, with one large observational study reporting that playing golf regularly could raise life expectancy by approximately 5 years.

Although having a limited social network was a risk factor for all-cause mortality, it did not diminish the association between the different sports and mortality, the authors note. They call for further study of the effect of social interaction during sports activity.

This study was supported by the Danish Heart Foundation. The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Mayo Clin Proc. Published online September 4, 2018. Abstract

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