The secret to a long and healthy life lies on the tennis court

Forget jogging or playing football: the secrets to long life are tennis, swimming and aerobics.

Researchers at the University of Oxford have discovered that certain sports can cut the risk of dying prematurely by almost half.

Although the workout gained from playing 90 minutes of football has significant health benefits, it was not sustainable into old age, so has little long-term effect, they claim.

Their study found that people who played racquet sports such as tennis, squash or badminton slashed their risk of dying from heart disease and stroke by 56 per cent. Swimming cut the risk by 41 per cent and aerobics by 36 per cent. No such benefits were seen in people who listed football, rugby or running as their main exercise.

Charlie Foster, one of the study authors, said the physical variation of total body exercise such as swimming and aerobics was key to the results. People who took part in a range of different physical activities in their youth were more likely to continue with sports as they aged, he said.

“There is a certain age limit to how well you can play football or rugby, or go running, to get the needed health benefits,” he said. “People tend to move on from team sports to other forms of exercise when they get a bit older and their knees wear out.  You can’t spectate your way to healthiness.  You can’t store the benefits of sport done in your youth.”

The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, examined information from 80,306 adults with an average age of 52 who took part in national health surveys between 1994 and 2008.

Sporting chance

  • Racket sports reduced the risk of death from heart disease and stroke by 56 per cent, and death from all causes by 47 per cent.
  • Death rates from all causes were 28 per cent lower among swimmers, who also had a 41 per cent lower chance of dying of heart disease and stroke.
  • Aerobics cut the risk of all deaths and heart disease (27 per cent) and stroke (36 per cent).