Missouri Valley / Heart Of America

Get to know the many health benefits of tennis

Sydney Hamilton | November 16, 2023


As USTA members, we love tennis. The competition. The camaraderie. The lifelong memories. All of it. Luckily for us tennis players, the sport comes with a wide range of health benefits for players of all ages. From physical to mental health, tennis can make us stronger, happier, and more resilient. It might even help us live longer!

 

By playing tennis just a few times a week, you can improve your balance and coordination. You’ll become more agile, and you’ll enhance your reaction time. Youth players may even find their self-confidence growing as they learn vital social skills and good sportsmanship. 

 

When it comes to the physical health benefits of playing tennis, there are many. Swap a sedentary lifestyle for regular tennis-playing and you’ll start building strong bones and muscles, particularly in your core, arms, and legs. In addition, playing tennis for just three hours per week can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by 56%! If that’s not impressive enough, playing tennis for just one hour can burn up to 870 calories, making it ideal for individuals watching their weight.

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Tennis is a brain-builder, too. It enhances neuroconnections in your brain, which can be of great benefit to players of all ages–young players may see higher grades and better focus, while adults may feel stress relief. Senior players may also benefit from the communities tennis leagues and clinics build.

 

What’s more, tennis has been shown to be the most effective sport at helping you live a longer life. In fact, one long-term study conducted by Copenhagen City Heart Study and published by the Mayo Clinic found tennis players added 9.7 years to their life over that of sedentary individuals, more than badminton and soccer.

USTA Heart of America Executive Director Sheila Goins has been in awe of a group of women–ranging in age from their 60s to their 90s–who regularly play at Kansas City Racquet Club. It was she who introduced me to two of the players, Sharon Everett, who is 91, and Debby Exon, who is in her 60s, both of whom maintain a regular tennis schedule with each other and their friends that helps keep them fit and fabulous.

 

“I love tennis; I’ve been playing since I was 16-17 years old,” Debby said. “We had an outdoor court in the park a block from my house. I asked for a racquet for my birthday and started playing with friends. Then, when I was in my early 20s living in Topeka, I was with my girlfriends–we were all teachers–and we discussed playing tennis every week. We met at the courts, and that’s when we just said, ‘We’re going to do this,’ so we spent all summer playing tennis. 

 

“I’m still playing with one of the gals from back then–it’s very sweet.”

 

Sharon started playing at KCRC when she was 43. Over the years, she has made countless friends, all of whom she values. In addition to playing tennis, Sharon has another hobby that she enjoys regularly. “I also row 2,200 meters twice a week to keep moving and motivated,” she remarked.

 

“My group is all about tennis and working out,” Sharon said. “We know it has helped us stay healthy, plus the joy of playing together for 30–some 40–years.”

 

Speaking to the testament of the health benefits of tennis, Debby opened up about her own personal journey–and the USTA Missouri Valley legend, who she considers a close friend, who helped her find her way back to tennis. “My stroke was ten years ago,” Debby shared. “Terry Miller was an inspiration for me to come back. I was talking with Terry about getting back into tennis but shared my concerns. I explained to her about my blind spot, and Terry suggested I play with my left side. Staying on the left side of the court has helped me see the court better.” 

 

Debby still takes tennis lessons with Terry, and is usually joined by her daughters, who also love the sport. “[Terry] continues to teach me and my daughters where and how to move, which helps my brain,” Debby explained. “Truly, the encouragement of Terry helped me keep pushing forward.”

 

After her stroke, Debby lost vision in the lower half of her right eye, which proved a major challenge in her getting back on the court. However, with Terry’s advice, she was able to make adjustments that benefitted her greatly. “Seeing the ball, it can go right through your blind spot; it has been a challenge,” Debby said. “But, long story short, I’m a better player now than I was before the stroke!”

 

In speaking with Debby, it’s clear how grateful she is to tennis–and her friends and fellow players–for helping her recover from her stroke. “Health-wise, having a stroke, your brain’s sort of slowed down and it really takes time and very hard work to recover,” said Debby. “One of the things with tennis, because it’s such a quick game, it forces you to make quick reactions, and it’s amazing exercise for your brain. I think that has been an amazing piece of it for me, because wow, you’re really exercising your brain and it’s giving you joy at the same time, which is also important in your recovery–finding your joy and smiling helps you feel good.

 

“The friendships are as important to me in my recovery; the friendships, camaraderie, and the enjoyment of being together; talking, and enjoying life when we get together after the game; smiling and laughing,” Debby continued. “That was a big part of my recovery–just enjoying life with good people around. After the stroke, I’m choosing to be around these good people; it’s not necessarily about the competition, it’s about being around the people who’ll say, ‘Great shot,’ and that’s been a huge part of my learning experience.

 

“It’s the other piece of it–the friendships you make on and off the court are so important in helping with recovery,” Debby said gratefully. “You need to continue to keep your friendships close, and it helps you heal as people know you’re working hard to get better as you try to become the best you can be.”

 

As individuals who’ve played tennis regularly and see the clear benefit of the sport, I had to ask both Sharon and Debby what advice they’d share with people curious about picking up a racquet. “Try it. It’s not for everyone, but if you like it, stick with it,” Sharon said. “It’s like golf. If you like it, keep playing. Everyone needs something to keep the mind and body alive. Motion is lotion, don’t you know?”

 

Debby had similar thoughts. “It’s about sticking with it, working hard, and playing more. A person’s brain wants to recover, and that just means working hard and sticking with it,” Debby said. “Continue, after injury, to push yourself. Pushing yourself beyond what you think you really can do, that is so important. Don’t quit; just keep trying.”

 

Debby would also recommend enlisting the help of a tennis pro to help develop skills and good habits. “A pro really understands,” she said. 

 

And for those returning to the court after an injury? “Practicing more and more, making it fun yet challenging, having satisfaction and joy in what you’re doing [is vital],” Debby explains.

 

“And repetition–of course, repetition!”


To learn more about the health benefits of tennis, as well as insight on nutrition and injury prevention, visit the Health and Fitness hub on USTA.com.

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