Aerobics, Racquet Sports and Swimming are Best for Heart Health, Researchers Say

A team of researchers from Australia, Austria, Finland and UK has found that swimming, aerobics, racquet sports (badminton, tennis and squash) and cycling offer life saving benefits compared to running and soccer. They also found that death from cardiovascular disease was reduced in people who participated in swimming, racquet sports and aerobics.

Compared with study participants who did not participate in the corresponding sport, risk of death from cardiovascular disease was: 56% lower among those who played racquet sports, 41% lower among swimmers, and 36% lower among those who participated in aerobics. Image credit: Geralt.

Compared with study participants who did not participate in the corresponding sport, risk of death from cardiovascular disease was: 56% lower among those who played racquet sports, 41% lower among swimmers, and 36% lower among those who participated in aerobics. Image credit: Geralt.

The team, led by Dr. Pekka Oja of the UKK Institute in Finland, examined 80,306 adults over 30 years of age to investigate the link between participation in six different ‘exercise disciplines’ and death, including cycling, swimming, racquet sports, aerobics, soccer and running.

The authors drew on responses from 11 nationally representative annual health surveys for England and Scotland, carried out between 1994 and 2008.

In each of the surveys, participants were quizzed about what type and how much physical activity they had done in the preceding 4 weeks, and whether it had been enough to make them breathless and sweaty.

Physical activity included heavy duty domestic chores, gardening, DIY, walking, and the six most popular forms of sport/exercise practiced: cycling, swimming, aerobics/keep fit/gymnastics/dance, running/jogging, soccer/rugby, and badminton/tennis/squash.

Less than half of the respondents (just over 44%) met the recommended weekly physical activity quota when they were surveyed.

The survival of each participant was tracked for an average of 9 years, during which time 8790 of them died from all causes and 1909 from heart disease/stroke.

After taking account of potentially influential factors, the analysis of the pooled data indicated varying odds of death according to sport/exercise type.

Overall, compared with the survey respondents who said they had not done a given sport, risk of death from any cause was 47% lower among those who played racquet sports; 28% lower among swimmers; 27% lower among aerobics fans; and 15% lower among cyclists.

No such associations were seen for runners/joggers or those who played soccer/rugby.

When Dr. Oja and co-authors looked at risk of death from heart disease and stroke, they found that playing racquet sports was associated with a 56% lower risk, with equivalent figures of 41% for swimming and 36% for aerobics, compared with those who did not participate in these sports.

Neither cycling, running/jogging, nor soccer/rugby were associated with a significantly reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease, the analysis showed.

The researchers did find a 43% reduced risk of death from all causes and a 45% reduced risk from cardiovascular disease among runners and joggers when compared with those who didn’t run or jog, but this apparent advantage disappeared when all the potentially influential factors were accounted for.

And few of the survey respondents said they played soccer or rugby regularly, which might also explain the apparent low impact of these activities on death risk in this study.

For some sports, the higher the intensity, duration, and volume, the greater was the reduction in risk, while for others a U-shaped curve emerged, indicating that lower intensity might be better than higher intensity or no participation at all.

The team’s findings were published online this week in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

“Our findings indicate that it’s not only how much and how often, but also what type of exercise you do that seems to make the difference,” said study senior author Dr. Emmanuel Stamatakis, from the Charles Perkins Centre, Faculty of Health Sciences and School of Public Health at the University of Sydney.

“Participation in specific sports may have various benefits for health,” he said.

“These observations with the existing evidence should support the sport community together with other sectors to design and implement effective health enhancing exercise programs and physical activity in general.”

“Future research should aim to further strengthen the sport-specific epidemiological evidence base and understanding of how to promote greater sports participation,” the researchers said.

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Pekka Oja et al. Associations of specific types of sports and exercise with all-cause and cardiovascular-disease mortality: a cohort study of 80,306 British adults. Br J Sports Med, published online November 28, 2016; doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2016-096822

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