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Conventional wisdom has long touted the benefits of jogging and cycling, but recent research indicates that the key to longevity may involve grabbing a racquet and getting out on the tennis court.

The difference, according to a Danish report, comes down to the social connections.

“Various sports are associated with markedly different improvements in life expectancy,” study coauthor Peter Schnohr, MD, DMSc, notes in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. “Interestingly, the leisure-time sports that inherently involve more social interaction were associated with the best longevity.”

Schnohr and his team analyzed exercise patterns and lifespan among nearly 8,600 Danish men and women who participated in the Copenhagen City Heart Study during a 25-year period. Controlling for age, socioeconomic status, and education, researchers calculated the value of particular activities in terms of extended longevity. They found that, compared with study participants who led sedentary lives, tennis players enjoyed an additional 9.7 years — outdistancing badminton enthusiasts (6.2), soccer players (5), cyclists (3.7), and runners (3.2).

Numerous studies over the years have demonstrated the longevity-enhancing powers of social connections. As far back as 1979, researchers noted that people who led more isolated lives were more than twice as likely to die during a nine-year period than their more sociable peers.

The social aspects of some sports seem to confer similar benefits, but Schnohr and his colleagues caution that their study was observational and does not prove causality.

This originally appeared as “Tennis, Anyone?” in the March 2019 print issue of Experience Life.

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