By aggregating data from general-population studies administered as far back as 1991, researchers from Europe and Australia have discovered something strange: People who played the most tennis, badminton, and squash (that's racketball to you Americans) were less likely to die during the study period than those who professed allegiance to other sports. Racket sports, bizarrely, seem to offer nearly twice as much protection as their nearest challenger, swimming. The study was published today in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
But perhaps most surprising about the study is how pathetic running and soccer (that's football to you non-Americans) performed in comparison to the other sports in the surveys. Their overall benefit to lifespan didn't even reach statistical significance.
To be fair, the result could be a statistical blip. The researchers theorize that their findings might reflect the small proportion of participants engaging in those sports, rather than some shortcoming in the sports' ability to add years to your life. But, well, that doesn't totally explain it. There were fewer racket-sport players than runners. And when the researchers looked specifically at the mortality rate from cardiovascular disease alone, the results were roughly the same: Racket sports fared best, followed by swimming and aerobics. While no one is quite ready to hazard a guess about why running, soccer, and, in this case, cycling failed to reduce the risk of death by a meaningful amount of time.
So forget about logging those long, boring miles on pavement this weekend. You're apparently better off working on your backhand.