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Over the past 60 years, there has been a substantial amount of evidence that shows that physical activity reduces the risks for heart disease and all-cause mortality. A few months ago, the results of the Copenhagen City Heart Study (CCHS) were published. The study looked at about 20,000 men and women between the age of 20 and 98 from 1991 to 2017 and evaluated the rate of development of heart disease in relation to their level of physical activity. Both walking and cycling were found to be associated with lower death rates. Interestingly, jogging had a U-shaped association between intensity of jogging and rates of survival. The most favorable amount of jogging for increasing survival rate was from one to 2.4 hours per week, with no more than three days per week, and at a slow or average pace. This supported the concept, found by other studies, that a moderate amount of exercise is better than minimal or extreme amounts. The study also looked at the relationship between different leisure-time sports and overall life expectancy.

Because various sports require markedly different intensities and durations of exercise, muscle groups used, types of muscle contractions (dynamic vs. static), and social interactions, they are likely to confer different effects on longevity. Surprisingly, life expectancy rates in those participating in sports activities differed greatly when compared to those who did not exercise. Also, the amount of years of life gained varied greatly among sports activities. The study found the following rates of years gained per sport activity: tennis - 9.7 years gained, badminton - 6.2 years, soccer – 4.7 years, cycling – 3.7 years, swimming – 3.4 years, jogging – 3.2 years, calisthenics – 3.1 years, and health club activities (treadmill, elliptical, stationary bikes, etc.) – 1.5 years. The large differences in life expectancy gains were not accounted for by the wide differences in duration of sports activity. In fact, the health club group, who had the longest duration of sports activity, had the shortest life expectancy gain. The authors postulated that the observed differences in life expectancy gains were due to the differing social aspects of the various sports studied. The sports that require two or more individuals to play together – tennis, badminton, and soccer – were the sports that had the highest gains while the more individual sports, especially health club activities, had the lowest. This is in line with previous studies that have showed that social isolation is among the strongest predictors of shortened life expectancy.

Regular participation in highly interactive sports provides not only exercise but also a social support group that plays together. Belonging to a group that meets regularly promotes a sense of support, trust, and commonality, which has been shown to contribute to a sense of well-being and improved long-term health. Another study also found that social support has a stronger effect on long-term survival than any other factor, including not smoking, staying lean, and having normal blood pressure. Incidentally, roughly 40 percent of Copenhageners commute to work by bicycle. If they do so as a social group, that may explain much of what this study found.

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