Regularly playing tennis could add nearly 10 years onto your life, according to a study. The popular racket sport could be better for you than cycling, jogging or swimming – and experts think the social aspect of it plays a big part. It's well-known that people who exercise are likely to live longer, and a study of nearly 8,600 people in Copenhagen found social sports may have extra benefits. Tennis players could live an average of 9.7 years longer than someone who does not exercise, badminton players 6.2 years and footballers almost five years.
But more solitary sports had less of an impact on people's life expectancy – cyclists live an average of 3.7 years longer, swimmers 3.4 years and joggers just 3.2 years. The researchers said that while raising the heart rate through exercise is important for longevity, connecting with other people is also vital.
The study led by Saint Luke's Health Center in Kansas City looked at the health and lifestyles of 8,577 people. All the chosen participants had been part of the Copenhagen City Heart Study – which began in 1975 with adults aged between 20 and 93 – for around 25 years. Researchers compared people's lifestyle details, including how often they played each sport, if at all, with national death records. People who report almost never exercising are the most likely to die young, the study found. But there are also differences in life expectancy among people who play different sports.
While cycling was the most popular sport in the study, tennis players lived on average six years longer. Experts said they cannot tell from this study why tennis adds more years to life than others, but suspected the social interaction could be important. 'We know from other research that social support provides stress mitigation,' study author James O'Keefe told the New York Times. 'So being with other people, playing and interacting with them, as you do when you play games that require a partner or a team, probably has unique psychological and physiological effects. 'Raising your heart rate is important, but it looks like connecting with other people is, too.' He suggests people who cycle or run along could consider finding a partner or group to join them to boost the long-term health effects. The findings back up a study of 80,000 British adults, published last year in the British Medical Journal, which found people who play racket sports tend to outlive joggers. Researchers on the new study said the life-extending effects still remained regardless of people's age, wealth or level of education – suggesting the sports have a direct benefit. But Dr O'Keefe said it was still possible that people who have enough free time and money to play tennis regularly live longer because they have free time and money, rather than because of the tennis. The team's findings were published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.