Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Sports That Will Save Your Life

An international research collaboration led by University of Sydney researchers has found that cycling, swimming, aerobics and racquet sports offer greater lifesaving benefits than running and football.

Published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the study examined 80,000 adults over 30 years of age to investigate the link between participation in six different exercise disciplines and death. The researchers 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 how much physical activity they had done in the preceding 4 weeks, and whether it had been enough to make them breathless and sweaty.

Compared with study participants who did not participate in the corresponding sport, risk of death from any cause was:

  • 47% lower among those who played racquet sports (tennis, squash, badminton);
  • 28% lower among swimmers;
  • 27% lower among those who participated in aerobics; and
  • 15% lower among cyclists.

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.

“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 senior author A/Prof Emmanuel Stamatakis of the Charles Perkins Centre at The University of Sydney.