Trevor Laffan: Advantage tennis... I’m so glad I play a sport that’s good for you

Tennis has a large global following, but its popularity could be about to increase following the news that it might be the secret to longevity, writes Trevor Laffan
Trevor Laffan: Advantage tennis... I’m so glad I play a sport that’s good for you

NET GAINS: A study found that tennis could add as much as a decade to your longevity. Picture iStock / posed by models

AS of now, the Wimbledon Tennis Championships are scheduled to go ahead on June 28, which is great news for fans of the sport.

There will be restrictions for players, and fewer spectators than normal, so it will be different to what we’re used to, but I don’t care.

The French Open went ahead with smaller crowds, and even though they had to vacate the complex by 8pm, it was great to hear real people cheering again.

Tennis has a large global following, but its popularity could be about to increase following the news that it might be the secret to longevity.

It has been suggested that if you want to live to a ripe old age, forget about the gym, the running track, special diets, or the exercise bike; just buy a tennis racquet.

I have played the sport since my early teens — not very well, but well enough to get me out in the fresh air and running around a bit.

I found my own standard many years ago and never had any interest in advancing beyond that. I played for fun and that suited me fine because I’m not much of a competitor. In fact, I don’t have a competitive bone in my body, so I found some like-minded souls and stuck with them.

It has given me a lot of pleasure over the years, so I was delighted to read that it’s not only good exercise, but it can extend your life.

The International Tennis Federation (ITF) reported that playing the sport could increase life expectancy by a decade.

The Copenhagen City Heart Study suggested that the type of exercise you get in tennis — short bursts of activity rather than slow, steady plodding exercise — might be better for you.

The authors of the study noted that short, repeated intervals of higher intensity exercise appear to be superior to continuous moderate intensity physical activity for improving health outcomes.

The cardiovascular studt examined people over a 25-year period and evaluated improvements in life expectancy through participation in various sports and leisure-time activities. In total, 8577 participants were examined for all-cause mortality between October 19, 1991, and September 16, 1994, until March 22, 2017, with various sports found to improve and increase life expectancy.

Tennis topped the charts for potential life expectancy gains by some considerable distance, with results suggesting as many as 9.7 years could be added to an individual’s existence. More than other sporting activities such as badminton, football, swimming, jogging, and calisthenics.

The results were striking:

Tennis: 9.7 years

Badminton: 6.2 years

Soccer: 4.7 years

Cycling: 3.7 years

Swimming: 3.4 years

Jogging: 3.2 years

Calisthenics: 3.1 years

Health Club Activities: 1.5 years

A further conclusion of the study suggested that leisure-time sports which involve greater levels of social interaction are associated with the higher levels of longevity.

That’s common sense when you think about it, because if you mix with friends for a game of tennis and have a laugh while getting some exercise, that must be good for you.

The bottom line is that regular exercise is better than sitting around all day and will help you live longer.

That explains a lot to me because my club, Rushbrooke Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, (RLTCC), is one of the oldest in the country. It was founded in 1870 and I think some of the original members are still playing... That’s an exaggeration of course, but there are lots of lads in their seventies and eighties who continue to hit a good ball.

I often play with these guys and, even though I’m a lot younger, I struggle to keep up, which proves that tennis is good for the muscles, heart, lungs, and mind. The social side has its benefits too.

Many people feel tennis is an elitist sport and it’s not for them, which was certainly the case at one time. RLTCC was originally a croquet club where military officers and professional gentlemen from the locality could relax and enjoy the leafy surroundings in the company of the gentry. It was no place for mere peasants like me.

Back in the 1970s, as members of a much smaller club, Mount Crozier, we often looked over the hedges at the grass courts of Rushbrooke with envy, knowing that our genealogy wouldn’t support our application process, so we stuck with our concrete courts.

Thankfully, those times are long gone and RLTCC is a very welcoming club today.

Other things have changed too. We’ve become more health conscious, more knowledgeable, and better served by modern medicine, which helps us enjoy ourselves for longer.

People like my grandfather would have benefitted from a bit of tennis back in the day. Health and wellbeing weren’t serious considerations back then and in 1964, he died at the age of 74 when I was about six. According to his death certificate, his heart was in bad shape, but he probably didn’t even know it.

I remember him as a small, old man who sat around the house, listening to the radio in his retirement, which wasn’t uncommon because anyone over 70 thought they were washed up.

The average life expectancy of a male was around 65 in those days, so retirement signalled the end for many. They passed their time waiting for the grim reaper to give them a knock. There wasn’t much emphasis on having an active, healthy retirement because, statistically, they weren’t likely to be around for much longer anyway.

There’s a lesson there for the rest of us. It’s up to us all to give ourselves the best chance we can by staying fit and healthy. Moving is a big part of that and it’s great to discover that tennis is one of the best all round exercise activities. It’s also relaxing, even if you play badly like me.

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