Racquet Sports Help You Live Longer
Intense cardio workouts tend to produce the best results, but they can also be challenging. Interval training, also known as high-intensity interval training (HIIT), is where you run or move for short bursts at a very fast pace, mixed in with very slow periods where you recover.
There are several advantages to interval training. They can often be completed in 30 minutes or less, they burn large amounts of fat, and if done correctly, they also preserve muscle. Unfortunately, they can also be intimidating for anyone but the very fit.
The solution is changing your interval exercise. Instead of solitary activities like running, biking or rowing, get your intervals by playing racquet sports.
Imagine a tennis match. You have moments where you use bursts of energy as you lob the ball back and forth. Then you have periods of rest as you or your opponent prepare to serve. That combination of intense energy, mixed with rest periods, is precisely how intervals work.
Activities like ping-pong and pickleball help you expend 4 times as much energy as sitting quietly. Playing tennis increases that to between 4.5 and 6 times as much energy. Badminton burns 5.5 times as much energy, while racquetball and squash burn 7 to 7.3 times as much energy.
The advantages go beyond fat burning. You develop better balance. Hitting the ball improves your hand-eye coordination. A regular program can lower your resting heart rate and improve blood pressure. Even your bones benefit by growing more dense and strong from the impacts of moving back and forth across the court.
There are social benefits too. You're more likely to show up and exercise when there's someone who will be waiting for you. During times of quarantine, it's also nice to spend time with a friend (or rival) while still being able to maintain social distancing.
Perhaps the most surprising benefit is a much longer life. The Copenhagen City Heart Study followed 8,577 people for up to 25 years. Researchers compared people who engaged in several different types of exercise to a group that did nothing. They found that simply going to a health club increased lifespan by 1.5 years. Joggers lived an additional 3.2 years. Swimmers added 3.4 years, and bicyclers got 3.7 years. But the real surprise was that people who played badminton lived an additional 6.2 years while tennis players got 9.7 years.
It's important to note that this was an observational study. The researchers observed the behavior of their subjects without influencing or interfering with it. That means scientists don't know for sure if the people lived longer because of the exercise, or if just the people in better shape were the ones who exercised. However, results from other studies seem to indicate it was the exercise that helped.
Similar studies found that the final years of the exercisers were more productive. They experienced less illness, lower levels of mental decline and reportedly felt more happiness and satisfaction.
You can get started by looking for public courts in your community. Many towns provide places where you can play at little or no cost. If you can't find a partner to play against, practice by hitting a tennis ball against a wall.
There are a few safety tips to keep in mind. Warm-up just like you would before any intense activity. Switch things up once in a while, so you don't develop repetitive injuries. Keep water around and drink regularly. If you're playing outside, be careful on wet courts. You might want to consider postponing a workout if they're slippery.
Find people you can play against that are around your same skill level unless you're being coached. Because you're playing a game, it can be easy to lose track of how long you've been moving and overexert yourself. Set a timer and wear a heart rate monitor.
How many years would you like to add to your life?
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