We all know exercise can help you live longer by reducing your likelihood for various diseases and improving your physical and your mental health. But which exercises give you the most health bang for your buck? A new study has found that three sports are the most closely associated with longer life, so get ready to pick up a racket, grab your goggles and squeeze into your leotard.
The study, which was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, is a compilation of data from health questionnaires collected from more than 80,000 people in England and Scotland between 1994 and 2008. Researchers used the data to determine each participant’s exercise habits and then drew connections between those exercises and a risk of death.
The good news for those who like to work out is that researchers found all forms of exercise were linked to a lower mortality rate. But there were three sports in particular that added the most years a participant’s life: tennis, swimming and aerobics.
Specifically, participants who reported playing racket sports such as tennis or squash were 47 percent less likely to die than their sedentary peers. Swimmers were 28 percent less likely to die than the non-exercisers, and those who did aerobics — which they defined as general exercise and gymnastics — were 27 percent less likely to die.
When they looked at cardiovascular disease specifically, researchers found that those who played tennis and other racket sports were 59 percent less likely to die from the disease than those in the sedentary group while swimmers and those who did aerobics were 41 percent and 36 percent less likely to die from the disease, respectively.
But hey, what about all of the other sports (ahem … running?) For starters, the study was conducted in the U.K., so sports that are popular in the U.S. such as basketball, (American) football and certain martial arts were not considered. Two sports that are popular in both countries, running and cycling, made the list but didn’t make a big impression.
Researchers found that cyclists were just 15 percent less likely to die than those who didn’t exercise at all. For runners, the number was 13 percent. One explanation for these low numbers suggested by the study’s authors is that it may have been likely for a participant to say, for instance, that they went for a run some time in the last month without actually being a regular runner. The same could be said for cycling. That might have skewed the results for these two sports to include more participants than those who actually run and cycle regularly.
Overall, the research team found that regular participation in any sport resulted in a 28 percent reduced likelihood of death. So whether you like to run, bike, swim, flip or swing — as long as you’re moving, you’re likely to have many more years to enjoy your favorite sports.