Racket sports for the win!

Only about half of Americans (53.3%) meet the recommended physical activity guidelines for aerobic exercise of 150 minutes of moderate activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week, according to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Which is too bad, because we know that exercise can help you prevent several chronic diseases, lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, improve mental health, increase energy and more.

Hey, we get it: Pounding away on a "road" to nowhere on the treadmill isn't always inspiring. But scientists are learning that alternate modes of exercise—including ones that might take you right back to childhood—might help you feel younger and live longer.

Woman playing tennis
Credit: Getty Images / Taiyou Nomachi

According to research in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings involving data from The Copenhagen City Heart Study (CCHS), certain sports can help you live stronger and longer. (Worth noting: The researchers admit that the jury is still out about whether the relationship is simply correlated or causal.) Over 25 years of tracking more than 8,500 people, they found that these sports and activities increased life expectancy for active participants the most compared to sedentary peers:

  1. Tennis: 9.7 years
  2. Badminton: 6.2 years
  3. Soccer: 4.7 years
  4. Cycling: 3.7 years
  5. Swimming: 3.4 years
  6. Jogging: 3.2 years
  7. Calisthenics: 3.1 years

"Interestingly, the leisure-time sports that inherently involve more social interaction were associated with the best longevity—a finding that warrants further investigation," the researchers note in the study abstract.

A 2019 study published in BMC Public Health adds to the mounting evidence that social factors play a large role. Japanese scientists found that consistent exercise is linked to longevity, and those who report sweating with family and friends have even longer healthy life expectancies than those who went at it alone.

While it might seem strange that who you exercise with makes a difference along with how and how much you exercise, it does make sense based on what we know about the importance of social connections. Numerous studies have proven that social isolation is associated with increased mortality, so combining two healthy habits (socializing exercising) can be a win-win for your wellbeing.

Find a court or field and call your crew to join the match (and mask up to stay safe). Regardless of who takes home the gold medal, everybody will score some serious health benefits. (Psst...before you head out, discover exactly what to eat before, during and after a workout.)