The term “lifelong sport” gets thrown around a lot when you decide to take up the sport of tennis, but do they really mean that you can play tennis your entire life?
Yes, the experts really do mean your entire life!
Some of the youngest tennis players start swinging a racket at around three years old. This doesn’t mean they are hitting anyone off the court at that age, but they are learning the very basics of moving their body through space, hand-eye coordination, balance, and so much more.
What the fundamentals of the sport teach us are fundamentals that can carry us to the ripe old age of ninety-seven; that is the age of the oldest tennis player in the world. Leonid Stanislavskyi from the Ukraine holds the Guinness World Record as the world’s oldest tennis player and still plays competitively!
We’re going to dive right into the physical, mental, social benefits of playing tennis long term:
6 Reasons Why Tennis is a Lifelong Sport
1. Increases life expectancy
A study published by the Copenhagen City Heart Study followed 8,577 people over 25 years and found that tennis can add 9.7 years to your lifespan. Can you imagine living nearly a decade longer just because you regularly play tennis?
The main reason for increasing life expectancy is tennis’s social aspect. Research has found that remaining social as we age reduces the risk of developing dementia. Even though tennis is an individual sport, there are plenty of ways to play with others: USTA and local club teams, high school and college teams, or even just a weekend pick-up game with a few friends.
The Danish study also found that the physical challenge, balance, mental strategy, and visual-spatial benefits of the sport attributed to a longer life.
In fact, almost all racket sports increase life expectancy: badminton, pickleball, and squash.
2. Improves overall fitness
The CDC recommends that adults need at least 150 minutes of moderate activity each week to maintain their health. And anyone who has picked up a racket and taken part in a lesson, clinic, cardio tennis class, or a match knows that tennis is a great workout.
Tennis is a full body workout too. You’re using your glutes and leg muscles to run to the ball. You’re using your back, chest, shoulder, and arm muscles to swing your racket. You’re using your core to rotate and maintain balance.
Playing tennis lowers the risk of osteoporosis which unfortunately can affect all of us, especially women, as we age. Even though tennis is somewhat low impact, it is a weight-bearing sport which helps prevent or slow the deterioration of old bone. Over two dozen studies looked at bone health in different levels of tennis players and found that most showed increased bone density and strength.
Another fitness benefit of playing tennis is enhanced motor control. Motor control is the ability to stabilize one body part while another is moving. If we don’t have motor control, we essentially wouldn’t be able to hit an effective shot.
The final benefit is that tennis boosts immunity by increasing the number and strength of your white blood cells. You improve your immunity even more when you play on outdoor tennis courts. Getting outside improves many things like blood pressure and mood but can also help you heal quicker. Research has found that more time spent outside lowers the use of painkillers and shorter hospital stays.
3. Protects the heart
Tennis is unique because it provides both aerobic (endurance) and anaerobic (fast explosive movements) exercise. Because of its stop-and-start nature, tennis acts a lot like interval training. Studies have shown that playing tennis has a positive effect on our heart and lungs—just three hours a week reduces the risk of heart disease by over 50%.
How does tennis protect the heart? When you sprint to the ball over and over again, your heart becomes more efficient at recovering. The aerobic benefit of tennis also includes:
- Improving the heart’s ability to send oxygen to the body
- Decreasing body fat
- Lowering blood pressure
- Raising good cholesterol
4. Improves our mental health
Playing tennis releases endorphins into the body—the feel-good neurotransmitter—and naturally relieves stress and pain. You may often feel invigorated after playing tennis. That’s your endorphins doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing.
Here is what the International Tennis Federation says about the psychological benefits of playing tennis:
- Decreases daily and chronic stress.
- Improves self-confidence and body image.
- Enhances moods.
- Decreases depression and anxiety symptoms.
5. Boosts brain power & problem-solving skills
Playing tennis improves your tactical thinking skills and creative problem-solving ability. Because you are spending an entire match tracking a small, yellow ball, tennis enhances your ability to detect motion, speed, and timing—put these all together, that’s why you can move your body and connect your racket with a moving target.
There are also significant research findings that associate playing tennis with better memory and the ability to switch tasks easily meaning that you can adapt to new, changing, or unplanned events with little to no stress. Sounds a lot like what happens during a tennis match, doesn’t it?
6. No age limits to step onto a tennis court
Tennis has the benefit of being low-risk, low-impact, and a no-contact sport. Meaning that there are no restrictions to play if you have a racket, a few balls, sneakers, and the ability to move your body.
Kids usually start playing competitive tennis matches around the age of eight either in tennis tournaments or Junior Team Tennis. And unlike other sports where your competitive athletic career might end in high school or college, there are tennis tournaments and leagues for all ages.
There are adult and senior USTA divisions that range from thirty-five to ninety years old, while open divisions are open to all ages. And USTA leagues follow similarly with sections 18 & over, 40 & over, and 55 & over.
Tennis is a lifelong sport because it’s an incredible way to stay fit both mentally and physically. And with the added bonuses of building strong bones, widening our social circle, it also may provide an extra ten years of life. What could be better?