Although we are often told the benefits of exercise, and by extension, sport, it is not always easy to visualize and understand just how important they are to our life expectancy.
Are you looking to workout for a healthier and longer life? You might be wondering…
Which are the best sports for a longer life expectancy?
The following have been identified as increasing life expectancy (with the average life expectancy increase listed in brackets):
- Calisthenics (3.1 years)
- Walking or jogging (3.2 years)
- Swimming (3.4 years)
- Cycling (3.7 years)
- Soccer (4.7 years)
- Badminton (6.2 years)
- Tennis (9.7 years)
Before we discuss why the sports mentioned above are the best for improving life expectancy, let’s first unpack why specific sports and exercises are considered better than others:
Why Does Playing Sports Increase Life Expectancy?
Because most sports require a level of moderate exercise, the inherent health benefits of exercise are inherent to playing sport. Consequently, exercise provides the following benefits:
- Healthier bones, muscles, and joints,
- Reduced risk of heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes, cancer, arthritis, and osteoporosis,
- Decreased blood pressure,
- Reduces stress and promotes the release of natural, mood-boosting endorphins,
- Improves balance and conditioning.
Adults should aim for approximately 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week. Furthermore, different exercises should be employed, such as working for major muscle groups at least twice a week and improving flexibility with full range motions two to three times a week.
However, although exercise has inherent benefits, many scientists are unsure why certain sports and activities provide notable benefits over others.
A notable theory is that people who have the time and money to play sports also have the socioeconomic means to improve their life and health in ways that people from impoverished backgrounds do not.
However, while there is an undeniable truth to this theory and a notable overlap between life expectancy and socioeconomic wealth, this does not account for the difference in benefits between sports.
For example, while golf and horse-riding are considered “elite” and expensive sports typically reserved for people in positions of socioeconomic privilege, neither sport provides the life expectancy benefit of equally “elite” sports like tennis or badminton.
Herein lays the overarching theory that different types of exercises and sports denote notable life expectancy benefits over others, with some exercises and sports actually decreasing life expectancy!
Sports with a social element like team sports or competitive sports provide added social and mental benefits that purely individual sports like running do not.
The reason is that socializing and implementing sports strategies help improve mental health and problem-solving skills and give people a sense of “belonging” as they age. These psychological benefits are essential in combating age-related issues like depression, anxiety, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Finally, playing sport promotes a healthy diet, as participants have an external form of stimulation and strive to complement their exercises and sport of choice with the correct diet.
Which Sports Increase Life Expectancy The Most?
Now that we understand the added physiological and psychological benefits different sports and exercises have over others, let’s outline why the following seven sports are recognized for improving life expectancy:
Calisthenics involves a combination of strength and conditioning training that borrows heavily from other sports and exercises like gymnastics, acrobatics, and general bodyweight exercises. Experts have found that calisthenics can improve life expectancy by approximately 3.1 years.
The benefits of calisthenics include:
- Improved strength,
- Improved flexibility,
- Improved aerobic endurance,
- Posture, toning, and fat loss.
Fortunately, calisthenics allows participants to reap these benefits for as little as 20 minutes of exercise daily and with a very low risk of injury. The reason is that calisthenics is not a contact sport and focuses on using body weight and controlled movements rather than external weights.
Finally, while calisthenics is an individual sport, most gyms or centers offer guided classes, allowing you to socialize and learn from like-minded people.
2. Walking Or Jogging
As the most straightforward sport on this list, it may be surprising to learn that daily walking and/or jogging can improve your life expectancy by approximately 3.2 years.
A 2020 study by JAMA Network found that compared with the average adult that only walks 4000 steps a day, those adults that aimed for 8000 steps a day had a 51% lower risk of all causes of mortality.
Furthermore, adults who made a concerted effort to go on daily walks over 12000 steps a day were at a 65% lower risk of all causes of mortality than adults who only walked 4000 steps a day.
Consequently, regular walking and the distance walked are vital factors in improving life expectancy, while walking faster had a negligible effect in reducing cardiovascular disease and cancer. Therefore, walking is an excellent sport to enjoy in your old age, even if you suffer from reduced speed/mobility!
Similar to walking, a 2019 study by the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that compared to no running, even an occasional weekly run resulted in a 27% reduction of all causes of mortality, including a 30% reduction in cardiovascular disease and a 23% reduction in cancer mortality.
Despite these benefits, excessive walking and jogging have been known to put pressure on muscles and joints (and it works a lot of them). Therefore it is vital to invest in quality walking/running shoes and not over-exert yourself.
Due to being a low-impact sport, meaning you can enjoy it for life without worrying about placing excess pressure on your joints, swimming can improve your life expectancy by approximately 3.4 years.
Swimming is believed to reduce the risk of all-cause mortality by 28% and cardiovascular disease by 41% compared to non-swimmers or equally sedentary adults. It’s a great workout that targets a variety of different muscles, without the impact associated with some of the activities son this list.
However, swimming can be a difficult all-year-round sport to enjoy due to cold weather unless you have access to a heated, indoor pool.
Whether you opt for a leisurely bike ride on a Sunday afternoon or decide to compete in long-distance endurance races, cycling can improve your life expectancy by approximately 3.7 years.
Key benefits of cycling include its flexibility, namely that cycling is suitable for HIIT exercises, long-distance endurance exercises, or simply as a way of reducing stress and experiencing time outside exploring your neighborhood and nature.
Cycling also focuses on improving one’s balance, which is essential in avoiding injury as you age. Just be cautious when riding to maintain balance and be realistic about your cycling proficiency to prevent crashes!
Soccer has a notable life expediency increase of approximately 4.7 years, leading many researchers to believe that the added benefit of sport over mere exercise is the social nature of sports and the need to execute complex game plans and strategies.
Therefore, while soccer is often viewed as a young person’s sport, its reduced level of contact compared to similar sports like American football, basketball, or rugby means that you can play it for longer than most sports.
Furthermore, along with a unique combination between HIIT fitness and endurance, soccer is a technical sport that requires teamwork. This focus on communication, technique, and strategy keeps players socially and mentally engaged!
While badminton may not be the most physically demanding or technical sport, its status as a racket sport means it makes the second spot as it can increase your life expectancy by 6.2 years.
It would appear that the main draw of badminton is that it’s a social sport that relies on technique and hand-eye coordination over raw power, thus creating a unique combination of physical and mental endurance.
Other racket sports would appear to have similar benefits, like how Korean women over 60 who played table tennis showed improved cognitive functions versus those women who walked, danced, or did resistance training.
The Western world has seen similar results, with elderly pickleball players in Utah showing improved mobility, cognitive performance, and decreased pain/discomfort.
Finally, and as the highlight of racket sports, tennis can improve one’s life expectancy by a staggering 9.7 years!
A study published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine declared tennis as an outlier by producing results that suggest that tennis reduces the risk of all-cause mortality by 47% and cardiovascular disease by 56%.
Is There Any Sport That Decreases Life Expectancy?
Yes, due to the correlation between head trauma and cause of death at 22.90%, boxing has been identified as reducing life expectancy by approximately 4.9%.
However, it must be understood that these results are derived from elite boxers who have racked up numerous fights in their careers without headgear. Generally speaking, amateur boxers are unlikely to experience severe head trauma due to short rounds, short fights, and the use of headgear.
Many people that enjoy boxing and boxing training may never participate in an actual boxing match!
Consequently, boxing training is an excellent source of exercise that can improve your health and life expectancy if practiced safely!
In conclusion, although most exercises and sports improve one’s life expectancy, it is vital to consider the pro and cons of each sport to choose the sports that suit your lifestyle and needs!