“The health and wellbeing outcomes of tennis should not be underestimated and
this should be heavily promoted in order to help increase participation of the sport
in the UK” said Ed Willis of Sports Marketing Surveys Inc at the recent Business of
Whilst tennis was always known to deliver positive health benefits, there is now
some evidence that tennis helps stave off death compared to other sports!
The Guardian in November 2016 highlighted the work undertaken by an
international team of researchers into sport and long-term mortality that had been
published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Scientists attempting to tease apart the benefits of different sports have found that
regularly taking part in sports such as badminton or tennis reduces your risk of
death at any given age by almost 50%, with swimming and aerobics also proving
By contrast, running and football appeared to have little effect, although the authors
caution that this could be down to the nature of the study itself.
“It is the first big scale population study to say ‘is participation in sport protective in
terms of your long-term mortality?’The answer is yes, it does appear to be,” said
Charlie Foster, co-author of the study from the University of Oxford. However, which
sport you choose may make a difference.
The study incorporated responses from 80,306 adults aged 30 and over in England
and Scotland who were quizzed on their health and exercise through national
surveys conducted at various points between 1994 and 2008.
Each participant was asked a series of questions about their lifestyle and exercise,
including which sports they had taken part in during the previous four weeks and
how frequently they did so, as well as the intensity of the exercise and its duration.
The survival of the participants was surveyed, on average, nine years later, during
which time 8,790 participants had died, with 1,909 deaths down to cardiovascular
The results reveal that fewer than half of the participants, just over 44%, met the
national guidelines for the recommended levels of exercise of 150 minutes of
moderate physical activity a week.
The researchers then compared the risk of death among those who took part in a
sport to those who did not participate in that particular activity, taking into account
factors such as age, sex, whether they smoked, BMI, other exercise and education.
The results revealed that cycling, for example, was associated with a 15% reduced
risk of death. “We can tease out specifically that little extra difference between
those who do cycle and those who don’t,” said Foster.
When applied to the other five categories of sport explored, it was found that
swimming was linked to a 28% reduced risk of death, while the figure was 47% for
racket sports and 27% for aerobic exercise such as keep fit or dance. Neither
running nor football – a category that encompassed both football and rugby – was
linked to a reduced risk of death.
When the team looked just at the risk of death from cardiovascular disease, they
found that swimming reduced the risk by 41%, racket sports by 56% and aerobics
by 36%. Running, cycling and football showed no protective effect.
The reasons behind the differences, says Foster, are complex. “They all have
different physiological demands, and they all have different physical, social and
mental benefits,” he said.
Dr Charlie Foster, associate professor of Physical Activity and Population Health at
Oxford, said: “We think racquet sports not only offer the usual physiological benefits
but also offer additional mental health and social benefits perhaps unique to these
It means that people often have larger social networks and tend to keep up
activities into later life, both of which are proven to be good for health.
In contrast, people who play team sports when younger often do not move onto a
new sport once their teams disband for family, or injury reasons. They become
spectators rather than participants in their chosen activity.
But those who run or enjoy football shouldn’t hang up their trainers, he adds. “We
are 100% certain that we know participation in these sports is good for you, that is
very clear, but what we haven’t seen yet is how well those benefits translate over
the long-term into preventing death,” said Foster, pointing out that a number of
factors relating to the study could be behind the apparent lack of protective effect.
The Top 10 Health Benefits of Tennis
The HealthFitnessRevolution has set out the top 10 health benefits of tennis:
• Full body workout: Unlike some sports, playing tennis is a brilliant workout
for the entire body. You use your lower body for all that running, stopping and
starting, jumping and crouching. And the action of hitting the tennis ball,
whether it’s single or double-handed, means that your trunk does a lot of
work as well, in particular your shoulders and upper back.
• Improved aerobic and anaerobic health: Tennis increases your oxygen
intake while playing, increasing your heart rate and helping your blood deliver
oxygen and nutrients to all your muscles. It also aids in the development of
numerous capillaries and capillary beds within the muscles so that your
muscles can have a greater blood supply and flow. This helps in your
muscles perform at a higher level and fatigue at a slower rate. It also helps in
maintaining anaerobic health, which allows the muscles to use oxygen in a
better way and provide quick energy spurts for explosive power and quick,
• Burns calories and fat: Running, swinging, reaching, pivoting — tennis can
be a real workout with the right opponent. It’s a whole-body sport, and you
can burn a lot of calories because you’re constantly on the move. In fact, for
many people, playing tennis can actually burn more calories than other
popular types of physical activity, including leisurely cycling, weight lifting,
golfing, dancing or playing volleyball. As a result, playing tennis regularly has
been shown to help reduce body fat. Singles tennis can burn between
400-600 calories an hour. That’s not bad for a recreational sport that’s both
fun and can be played by just about anyone.
• Improves bone health: Playing tennis isn’t good for your muscles alone; it
has a positive impact on your bones as well. Exercising regularly can
increase your peak bone mass and can slow the rate of bone mass loss over
time. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), bone mass peaks
around age 30 and begins to decline after that. You can maximise your bone
mass prior to that age through exercise, and continuing to exercise after 30
can slow the rate of bone loss. The NIH names tennis as one of the weightbearing
activities well suited to building strong bones.
• Heart healthy: Tennis great Bjorn Borg accurately characterised a tennis
match as “a thousand little sprints.” The quick anaerobic movements the
sport demands burns fat, increases your heart rate and promotes higher
energy levels. A typical tennis match can last anywhere from one to two
hours and at intervals that are optimal for improving cardiovascular health,
which is essential for lowering your risk of heart disease, heart attack and
• Enhances flexibility, balance and coordination: Tennis requires the
cooperation of the whole body. The feet manoeuvre you into the right
position, the arms and hands position the racquet to make contact with the
ball, and the torso and legs provide the power to send the ball flying over the
net. All these factors come together every time you hit the ball, and each shot
takes flexibility, coordination and balance. Flexibility is great because it can
give you a wider range of motion, help prevent injuries and even
reduce muscle strain.
• Boosts brain power: Tennis requires the brain to be creative, and it involves
planning, tactical thinking, agility and the coordination of different parts of the
body. So the more you play tennis, the better and stronger the neural
connections related to those types of activities become, and the better you
become at them. In addition to improving neural connections and developing
new neurons, studies show that exercises that require a lot of thinking —
such as tennis — can actually improve brain function in ways that aid
memory, learning, social skills and behaviour.
• Is great cross-training for other sports: Tennis involves quick-fire changes
of direction at top speed as you race around the court to return serves and
volleys. This requires 300 to 500 bursts of energy per match, according
to researchers. And you’ll run the equivalent of three to five miles. The effect?
Playing tennis is a great way to speed up your sprinting and work on your
• Improves discipline and social skills: Tennis makes you more disciplined
because the skills needed to master the game take patience, time and
dedication. That’s a lot of time spent practicing and focusing on getting better.
Tennis helps you in achieving a better degree of socialisation as you have to
interact with different players.
• Boosts mood: Tennis players are more optimistic, have greater self-esteem
and are less anxious, angry and depressed than people who play other
sports or are sedentary, according to scientists in Connecticut.