As most people seem to know, just about any type of exercise can improve your life expectancy and overall health.
But now, researchers in Kansas say they know exactly which exercises consistently offer the greatest improvements in longevity.
To analyze how exercise can extend life, these researchers examined health data on thousands of people, investigating which types of physical activity they performed and then compiling longevity results based on how long folks lived.
Researchers Followed 25 Years of Physical Activity
The Kansas researchers who delved into the particulars of exercise and life expectancy used data collected in the Copenhagen City Heart Study, a highly detailed record of the health and lifestyles of thousands of people living in Denmark.
Everybody taking part in this study went through periodic health exams and filled out surveys about their daily lives – including descriptions of all their physical activities and types of exercise.
The sports that these folks reported taking part in included running, tennis, soccer, badminton, bicycling, swimming, handball, calisthenics and weight-lifting.
By the end of this study, more than 8,500 people had been tracked for up to 25 years. They entered the study between 1991 and 1994 and the data collection ended in 2017.
Part of what the study confirmed was what the researchers already knew – folks who never exercised experienced shorter life expectancy than those who regularly took part in physical activity.
But what the scientists hadn’t expected were results demonstrating that one category of activity was much more productive at increasing longevity than the others. That’s right, researchers found consistent results that indicate when it comes to giving more people more years of healthy life, one type of fitness stands out.
Group Sports For the Longevity Win
The category most successful at stretching life expectancy turned out to be the one that included sports and workouts involving more than one person.
Tennis was shown to be the biggest life-extender, increasing life expectancy by an average of 9.7 years. The runner-up was badminton which added, on average, 6.2 years to longevity. Right behind that was soccer, which provided 4.7 years in additional life expectancy.1
In contrast, activities that were performed solo did not add as many years. Cycling came in at 3.7 years, swimming at 3.4 years, running at 3.2 years and calisthenics at 3.1 years.
Now, the study was not set up to be able to measure why gregarious activities outperform other forms of exercise when it comes to adding extra years to your life. But the researchers have their theories.
“For both mental and physical well-being and longevity, we’re understanding that our social connections are probably the single-most important feature of living a long, healthy, happy life,” says researcher James O’Keefe, MD, a cardiologist at St. Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City. “If you’re interested in exercising for health and longevity and well-being, perhaps the most important feature of your exercise regimen is that it should involve a playdate.”2
Traditional Sports aren’t Required
In addition, my advice is that if you aren’t very interested in picking up a racket and doing an activity like tennis or badminton, you could try dancing, or at least take dance lessons. This kind of group activity can also add years to your life. Data from research around the world shows that dancing produces both physical and cognitive benefits at any age.
For instance, a study in Greece on seniors aged 60 years and up found that two dance lessons a week lasting 75 minutes each (the folks were taught traditional Greek dances) produced significant anti-aging benefits after about eight months.3
Plus, a review study undertaken by researchers in Germany that analyzed studies involving folk dancing and ballroom dancing found good evidence that dance lessons were linked to a wide range of metabolic improvements.4 And when researchers in Brazil sifted through studies on how dance lessons improve the brain, they discovered that dancing could boost memory and increase the size of the hippocampus – an important memory center.5
So, alert your friends and family! Let them know they can help you increase your chances of living longer – and improve their own lives – by meeting you on the tennis court or on the dance floor this week.
As Dr. O’Keefe says, “Raising your heart rate (with exercise) is important, but it looks like connecting with other people is, too.”