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FROM Mark Hyman, MD
If you’ve been around me or listened to me even for a little bit, you know that one of my mantras is “All movement is good movement.”

Anything you can do to get up off of the couch and move your body regularly is going to have a positive effect on so many aspects of your health. We weren’t made to sit in front of a computer, TV, or smartphone 16 hours a day.

But while all of this is true, it doesn’t negate the fact that some forms of movement or exercise are better than others when it comes to longevity. In today’s newsletter, I want to talk about the science and data behind which forms of exercise actually correlate the strongest to living longer.

Please know that this is in no way meant to shame anyone for only doing a “lesser” form of exercise or turn living a longer, healthier life into some kind of competition. Remember, all movement is good movement, and what works for you may not work for someone else.

Rather, as always, my goal is to share information with you that can help you on your own journey toward health and wellness and consider some options you may not previously have thought about.

With that out of the way, let’s jump into this week’s newsletter!

Sporting Legends and Longevity

I want to start by discussing a rather interesting study that came out of the UK in 2021.

It’s well-documented, of course, that movement and exercise correlate with better health, but a team of British researchers wanted to test the more specific hypothesis that playing organized sports was tied to longevity. (In layman’s terms, they want to know if playing organized sports helps you live longer.)

To answer that question, they looked at top-tier professional athletes in a number of different sports—soccer, cricket, rugby, tennis, golf, boxing, and horse racing—and compared their life span data to that of the general public.

They uncovered something interesting. The data showed that there are 36 percent more Wimbledon finalists alive today than should be if they had the same mortality rate as the average person. This suggests that there is something inherent about playing tennis that may increase longevity.

But it wasn’t just tennis that had this effect (although tennis was the most pronounced by far). Every sport they looked at except boxing showed the same longevity trend.

Granted, the study was limited in many ways, but it does suggest that playing sports is linked to living longer.

The Copenhagen City Heart Study

Thankfully, another study published in 2018 featured a much larger data set.

The Copenhagen City Heart Study (CCHS), published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, followed 8,577 people over 25 years and found that, like the UK study, playing certain sports increased life expectancy.

This time, researchers looked at a slightly different mix of sports, including tennis, badminton, soccer, cycling, swimming, running, and calisthenics.

What they found mirrored what the UK study would find just a few years later. Namely, every sport they studied increased life expectancy, with one sport adding almost a decade to the average player’s life span! Here’s the list for reference:

Tennis: 9.7 years
Badminton: 6.2 years
Soccer: 4.7 years
Cycling: 3.7 years
Swimming: 3.4 years
Running: 3.2 years
Calisthenics: 3.1 years

Again, tennis reigns supreme (and it’s not just my bias because that’s the sport I happen to enjoy!).

So the data seems pretty compelling—there is a correlation between sports and longevity. But what exactly is that link?

What These Sports Have in Common

Yet another study, this time in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, can help clue us in. In that study, researchers found that people who played tennis or other racquet sports (badminton, pickleball, etc.) had a 47 percent lower risk of all-cause mortality than those who did not.

One idea behind why this is the case deals with the type of activity involved in a sport like tennis. It’s very stop-and-go, meaning you are intensely exerting yourself for 30 seconds during play, and then recovering in between serves. This makes for a natural form of interval training that tends to be efficient at training your body.

An equally important, if not even more critical, reason why a sport like tennis increases longevity so much is something we perhaps don’t give enough thought to—socialization.

It’s hard to play tennis alone, so it’s really a built-in group activity. And as social creatures, engaging with others is absolutely critical to maintaining a healthy lifestyle—so critical, in fact, that the US Surgeon General has proclaimed a loneliness epidemic. (Here’s a sobering fact for you: Loneliness is worse for your health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Yikes!)

It seems to be the case, then, that sports that combine intense interval training with social connections are at the top of the longevity list, likely because they tackle multiple root causes of the problem at the same time.

Let’s be clear, though. I personally love tennis (my plan is to win the 80-and-over tennis championship in 20 years), but you may not—and that’s okay. So what can you do with the results of these studies?

First, remember that literally any movement, exercise, or sport is going to come with myriad health benefits. So the absolute most important thing is to find something you can do consistently and enjoy. But if you want to try any of the sports most tied to longevity, do it! (The worst thing that can happen is you decide you don’t like it.)

Second, if you do have some favorite activities, find ways to incorporate other people into them. Don’t just go for a walk or a run by yourself; invite a friend or two. Or if going to the gym is your thing, find a workout partner. Use your exercise routine as a good excuse to socialize. Not only will it be more fun that way, but your health and longevity will get a boost too.

I hope the data I shared in this newsletter was as fascinating to you as it is to me. I’m excited we live in a time where we have such amazing information at our fingertips that allows us to live such healthy, fulfilling lives. And now, if you’ll excuse me, my tennis racquet is calling.

Wishing you health and happiness

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