Can Racquet Sports Like Pickleball, Tennis Help You Live Longer?

Research suggests that picking up a racket can be very beneficial, but there is no evidence on the long-term health effects of specific sports.

Person wearing a blue jacket hits a tennis ball with a neon green racket.
Research suggests that choosing a racket may be among the best decisions a person can make for their health. Photo by Matthew Modono/Northeastern University

It’s clear that racquet sports like pickleball — often cited as the fastest-growing sport in America — are having a moment. New pickle ball Partnership, Leagues Playgrounds are popping up everywhere.

Furthermore, research suggests that choosing a racket may be among the best decisions a person can make for their health. One study of nearly 80,000 people showed that racquet sports were associated with a decrease in physical activity All causes of death; last which compared racquet sports with other forms of exercise, found that participants who played tennis and — yes — badminton lived longer than cyclists, soccer players, runners, and swimmers.

But studies acknowledge that evidence on the long-term health effects of specific sports is lacking. So, Northeast World News Requested Art Kramerprofessor of psychology and director of the Center for Cognitive and Brain Health, which studies exercise and its effects on the body and brain, for some perspective on these findings and the larger literature.

His comments have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Headshot by Art Kramer.
Art Kramer, professor of psychology and director of the Center for Cognitive and Brain Health, talks about the health effects of racquet sports. Photo by Matthew Modono/Northeastern University

The Copenhagen Heart Association found that badminton adds an average of 6.2 years to a person’s life compared to an inactive person, and tennis adds nearly a decade at a rate of 9.7 years. It is a frequently cited study. What do you think that?

Initially, it was an observational study, meaning that causality was concluded. We cannot talk about causation here. But if I had to speculate on why they saw the benefits they saw in racquet sports, one possibility is that it not only involves a good workout to the point where you don’t take a lot of breaks between plays – and in tennis and pickleball, you sometimes play long periods of time – but it’s also very social, right? If there is a relationship between racquet sports and somewhat better mortality levels and perhaps brain health, it may be due to the fact that it is not just exercise, but exercise. with Others.

But there can be a variety of factors that we can’t see, which is often the case in these longitudinal studies of people who participate in some of these sports. They may be in better shape at first. They may abstain from some bad habits, such as drinking alcohol. People who gravitate towards these types of sports may be very healthy to begin with, and I bet there is some truth to that because if you have health problems, it will be very difficult to run on the field for an hour or two. .

Why do you think pickleball is so popular among seniors? Does it help them stay healthy?

I think the fact that it’s a much smaller court, and that you have two people on the court, is very attractive. If you’re a really good player and good at placing the ball, you can put it between two people, but not much movement is needed to get even the ball back in good position compared to the kind of movement required in a tennis ball. court. There is a lot of space between people who play doubles tennis. I think that’s why older people play pickleball, primarily because it’s easier to move when you can’t move as well.

You’ve spent your career studying the effects of exercise on brain health, among other things. Can you provide a summary of some of the key findings?

First of all, what is good for the heart is good for the brain, and there is no doubt that playing racquet sports helps the heart. Such exercises reduce plaque buildup in your arteries, which is something you don’t want; It reduces high blood pressure, which is often the result of high blood pressure. It tends to reduce A1C, which is a marker of glucose metabolism for type 2 diabetes; It reduces LDL cholesterol, or bad cholesterol, and increases good cholesterol. So, there’s a whole bunch of things that exercise does for the heart, and if your heart is working well, and your arteries aren’t clogged with plaque, your brain works better.

This is one reason why our brains work better when we exercise, and there are a whole host of other reasons; And we know about those other reasons because of rodent research, because we can do histology that humans never volunteer for when they’re alive anyway. We know that exercise increases new neurons, and some areas of the brain increase connections between neurons; It increases blood flow to the brain, similar to the heart; It increases nerve growth factors and a whole host of other things – it even increases, on a molecular level, mitochondria – the little energy factories found inside neurons and cells in general. There are a large number of changes that occur as a result of exercise, many of which have to do with blood flow, but not all of them.

There has been a lot of talk about the exact level of intensity required to get the health benefits from exercise. Do you have any thoughts on what exercise intensity is best, and whether racquet sports like tennis and baseball meet these ideals?

There have not been many studies that have compared different doses within the same studies, within the same outcome measures and within the same population. In fact, we’re running one now. We’ve just started analyzing data where we looked at 650 older adults – at people over the age of 65 to 85 years. We have a control state, which is expansion, but two air states; One is 150 minutes per week, then the other is 225 minutes per week, that is, a 50% difference. We look at many of these factors as a function of dose.

But there is not enough information to know how much exercise is sufficient, and this may vary depending on age and health. What’s enough for you might be too much for me, and babies tend to be constantly on the move. Enough for a 10 or 12 year old may not be something you or I can do. In fact, this is probably true for most adults, simply because we all have to work. There are huge individual differences in what a person can do – it depends on people’s health; It depends on the previous history. This depends on genetics to some extent.

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