Scientists love telling us what needs to be done to achieve longer, healthier lives. We know that exercise is good for heart health—ideally 45-minute sessions, three to five times per week—and some research suggests that team sports improve mental health.
As The New York Times reports, another new study is highlighting the surprising health benefits associated with certain sports in particular. Researchers say tennis is linked to a 9.7-year increase in life span, compared to 6.2 years for badminton, five years for soccer, 3.7 years for cycling, and 3.2 years for running.
These findings, published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, are based on analyses of the lifestyle choices and exercise habits of 8600 Danish people who participated in health exams and lengthy questionnaires over the course of about 25 years. Some of the participants died during that time, and researchers compared their life spans with the type of exercise they did and how often they did it. Unsurprisingly, while the study showed no causation, all sports were associated with a longer life when compared with people who led sedentary lives. The breakdown of those sports, and how good they are for your health, is where it starts to get interesting.
Even when the researchers controlled for different factors such as education, socioeconomic status, and age, tennis still came out on top as the best sport for longevity. These findings seem to support those of a 2017 study of more than 80,000 British people, which found that players of racket sports tended to liver longer than joggers.
Dr. James O’Keefe, a co-author of the new study, told the Times it’s not clear why some sports are correlated with increased longevity more than others. However, he theorized that the social aspect of certain sports plays a critical role. “We know from other research that social support provides stress mitigation,” he says. "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.”
[h/t The New York Times]