It’s Christmastime in Boston, MA and that traditionally means only one thing:
Mariah Carey a wondrously frozen Boston landscape setting the scene for a Holiday Market at Snowport – reminiscent of the Union Square Holiday Market in NYC. In Boston however, a few functional curling sheets – where heated swiffer-like battles rage daily – out compete NYC’s attempt at a real holiday market.
With mulled wine(s) in hand for courage and warmth, my friends and I survey the bustling market, diving into the chaotic, morass of joy. I shuffle step desperately, contacts frozen, nose streaming, along with the throngs of peacoat, car coat and colorful Cotopaxi clad shoppers randomly flitting from booth to booth. Rounding a corner, I come face to face with a Malamute valiantly dragging its owner into its favorite booth. I was barely able to edge safely into John S. Dykes’s art booth just as the Malamute owner’s feet disappeared, drag/whisked around the corner.
Riffling obsessively through his phenomenal illustrations (as my friends waited impatiently) from The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Atlantic, and many others, I came upon and promptly bought the above original which spurred the title of this post: Live Long and Tennis (LLAT). While I don’t honestly know if this illustration was intended for a media article on a 2018 study showing tennis increased longevity over other sports, I’ll go out on a limb and say it was – unless John S. Dyke tells me otherwise.
Tennis = Longevity?
I briefly wrote about this subject in 2018, and it bears a quick review/expansion.
Since circa 2016, observational studies hinted that racquet sports lowered all-cause mortality risks. As a life-long tennis player I felt very bro-y (albeit without the looks of) the Henry Hamm / Jon Cavill tennis illustration. In 2018, the probable Mayo Clinic Proceedings study that spurred said illustration used data (N= 8,577) from the Copenhagen City Heart Study and surprisingly:
“…found that tennis players had the longest expected lifetime among the 8 different sports.”Schnohr, P, MD, DMSc et al.
Mayo Clin Proc. 2018;93(12):1775-1785
Take THAT, Bill Gates and health club (e.g. treadmill, elliptical, stair-climber, stationary bikes, weightlifting) doers.
*pause for extended slurp of mulled wine*
What was also interesting about Schnohr et al’s study was that sports needing more social interaction (2 or more people) to play (i.e. tennis, badminton, soccer) were associated with the most longevity gain. Although a whole other can of worms, in-person socializing has been shown to be very important for subjective well-being and happiness. But side-stepping socialization aspects for a moment, as far as why different sports could lead to differential longevity findings:
“…sports that were linked to the best life expectancy gains typically require interval bursts of exercise using large muscle groups and full body movements, whereas the sports typically performed in a continuous manner showed less impressive life expectancy gains.”Schnohr, P, MD, DMSc et al.
Mayo Clin Proc. 2018;93(12):1775-1785
What about the newest study?
This brings us to current day, where as we speak, the Malamute has taken to another booth.
This National Institutes of Health (NIH) based group set out to answer the question: do different activities equate to different mortality risks among older adults (59 – 82 y.o., N=272,550)?
Bottom line for the holidays: many sport-like activities are of great benefit. But again, racquet sports had the greatest overall reduction in overall mortality risk (eTable 9, if anyone is curious) – likely because they require a complex interplay of brain, muscle, and bursts of exercise intensity.
Tennis still rules. This is a soft conclusion of course, but as a tennis aficionado I abide by the immortal words of Fox Mulder: I want to believe.
But seriously. This holiday season, the halls are decked and while I continue preaching that J.S. Dyke’s illustration reigns supreme – make it a point to get out there, and just find an exercise you enjoy and keep at it – even if it is pickleball.
You can’t do everything, but you can definitely do something.
- General rule: more exercise = decreased mortality risk albeit with diminishing returns on the very high end. A reasonable JAMA guideline for optimizing exercise is here.
- Post-exercise = eating 8 Big Macs. Just remember, (N=10,775) a recent study showed eating more ultra-processed foods was associated with ~25% faster cognitive (executive function) decline over 6-10 years. Acceptable amounts = <20% of daily calories. Limit this nom, especially middle aged adults.
- Fine, fine there are some pickleball studies showing better muscle / cognitive function + a desire to keep playing. And with ex-tennis pros like Sam Querrey joining the tour, it may get interesting.
- Golfing appears to increase longevity by ~5 years.
- Quokkas. They will do complicated tricks for food, and swamp wallabies are capable of mating / forming a new embryo while carrying another in the contralateral uterus. But despite that, nothing to do with longevity / tennis – although your subjective well-being has just increased by looking, no?
Left, clockwise: Ignacio the quokka, chowing healthily after an intense round of tennis with his crew as seen from the top: Alexander Zverev, Angelique Kerber; right: Duke and Duchess of Cambridge; bottom: Roger Federer. #quokkalife
Credits: quokkas.world/Instagram; Tennis.com; Anthony Devlin/PA Images via Getty Images; Paul Kane/Getty Images.