Mount Sinai: Play Tennis
June 12, 2017
Welcome to the Mount Sinai Health Beat, a feature with the official medical provider of USTA Eastern, USTA, and the US Open. This month, Mary Ann McLaughlin, MD, Associate Professor of Cardiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, explains why tennis is one of the best sports for heart health.
A recent study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM) showed that those who play racquet sports, like tennis, had, as we doctors would say, a marked reduction in allcause mortality and a significant reduction in cardiovascular disease mortality. In other words, playing tennis is great exercise and excellent for your heart health.
The study of 80,306 British adults aged 30-98 used a novel approach to come to this conclusion. It looked at specific sports and their effects on health, controlling for other characteristics or risk factors for heart disease in participants. ADVERTISEMENT Among the other sports studied were football, running, swimming, and cycling.
Why might a sport like tennis be especially beneficial? For the pros, tennis has increasingly become a game of strength. But for everyone else, it’s still mostly an aerobic sport. In general, we know that aerobic sports help make the heart become more efficient over time. For example, tennis players condition themselves by doing repetitive short sprints. This trains the heart to be able to speed up and then return to normal quickly. Essentially, while you are practicing your footwork, you are also strengthening your heart rate recovery, which has been shown to reduce mortality.
Aerobic activity is known to improve the ability of the heart to supply oxygen to the rest of the body, decrease fat content in the body, and increase muscle mass—all very important aspects of heart health. We also know that exercise, aerobic exercise in particular, helps to lower and maintain blood pressure. In addition, exercise tends to raise your HDL, the good cholesterol—a previous BJSM study found that racquet sports do a particularly good job in this area.
And don’t underestimate the fun factor of a friendly match. Depression is an oftenignored risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Aerobic activity is good for endorphin release and promoting mental health.
Consider this: The major risk factors for a heart attack are high blood pressure, bad cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, depression, and smoking. When looking at the benefits of tennis, we can say that not only does it cause more efficient heart function; it can address each of these risk factors.
Another important point is that tennis is a virtually ageless sport that many can enjoy well into their 70s or 80s. All you need is one other person, a court, and minimal equipment.
Playing a sport is more important than ever. So many live a sedentary lifestyle, relegating their sporting activity to hours watching television rather than time spent on the court. Tennis presents a fun way to improve your health and, perhaps, improve our nation’s public health by encouraging others to pick up a racquet.