Playing tennis gets you moving -- and moving is good for the body and the mind. One of the great things about tennis is that it's a sport that can be played at nearly any age and at any skill level. Because it's a low-impact sport and it's not dependent on the strength of the player, young and old alike pick it up easily [source: Better Health Channel].
Whether you play competitively, for your health or just for fun, tennis has great benefits for the mind and body. Here we'll share five ways that taking up a racquet and hitting the court can have positive impacts on your health.
Lowering high blood pressure, maintaining a healthy body weight, lowering cholesterol, reducing stress and being physically active are key to helping reduce the risk of heart disease -- and playing tennis can help you accomplish all these things [source: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute].
In the 1980s, the College Alumni Health Study showed that men who burn at least 2,000 calories per week through exercise have lower death rates from heart disease (one-fourth to one-third lower) than those who do not, and they live, on average, one to two years longer [source: Brandt]. The good news is that tennis goes a long way toward achieving that 2,000-calorie goal.
An average-sized man burns around 600 calories playing just one hour of singles tennis (425 calories for doubles), and the average woman burns 420 calories playing singles (330 playing doubles) [source: Woods]. That means that playing just a few hours of weekly tennis can reduce your risk of heart disease significantly.
Tennis is a sport that requires the cooperation of the whole body. The feet maneuver you into the right position, the arms and hands position the racquet to make contact with the ball, and the torso and legs provide the power to send the ball flying over the net. All these factors come together every time you hit the ball, and each shot takes flexibility, coordination and balance.
Playing tennis regularly helps to improve the body's ability to synchronize controlled movements, which can have benefits that carry over to other areas of your life. Flexibility is great because it can give you a wider range of motion, help prevent injuries and even reduce muscle strain. And coordination and balance reduce the risk of injury when playing sports or simply engaging in everyday activities. The more you play, the better your flexibility, coordination and balance will be.
Neurons are the cells that transmit information between your brain and different parts of your body. To send these messages, connections develop between neurons to facilitate communication, and the better the connection is between neurons, the easier and more quickly the message is received and executed.
Our environment and the ways we interact with it affect the neural connections in our brains, and between our brains and the rest of the body. When you do something over and over again, the neural connections associated with that action become stronger and more fixed. When you do something new or in a new way, you develop new neural connections and even new neurons. If you rarely do something, the connections can become weak or even disappear over time [source: Ratey].
Tennis requires the brain to be creative, and it involves planning, tactical thinking, agility and the coordination of different parts of the body. So the more you play tennis, the better and stronger the neural connections related to those types of activities become, and the better you become at them.
In addition to improving neural connections and developing new neurons, studies show that exercises that require a lot of thinking -- such as tennis -- can actually improve brain function in ways that aid memory, learning, social skills and behavior [source: Ratey].
Playing tennis isn't good for your muscles and mind alone; it has a positive impact on your bones as well. Exercising regularly can increase your peak bone mass and can slow the rate of bone mass loss over time. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), bone mass peaks around age 30 and begins to decline after that. You can maximize your bone mass prior to that age through exercise, and continuing to exercise after 30 can slow the rate of bone loss [source: NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center].
The NIH also points out that exercise improves coordination, flexibility and muscle strength, which can help prevent falls and injuries that can damage fragile bones.
The best exercises for building bone strength and mass are exercises that involve weights. But that doesn't mean you have to be lifting something -- your body, and the resistance of gravity against it, is often enough to give you the weight-bearing exercise needed to support bone health. The NIH names tennis as one of the weight-bearing activities well suited to building strong bones.
Running, swinging, reaching, pivoting -- tennis can be a real workout with the right opponent. It's a whole-body sport, and you can burn a lot of calories because you're constantly on the move. In fact, for many people, playing tennis can actually burn more calories than other popular types of physical activity, including leisurely cycling, weight lifting, golfing, dancing or playing volleyball [source: Mayo Clinic Staff]. As a result, playing tennis regularly has been shown to help reduce body fat [source: Buschbacher].
To lose a pound of fat, you need to burn approximately an extra 3,500 calories. If playing singles tennis for one hour burns about 600 calories for a man and 420 calories for a woman, playing about three to four hours of tennis each week could help you lose around half a pound a week. That's not bad for a recreational sport that's both fun and can be played by just about anyone.
Want to learn more about fun, engaging ways to get active? The links on the next page are a good start.
Jimmy Buffet has the right idea with his line of Latitude Margaritaville communities. HowStuffWorks looks at other innovative retirement communities.
More Great Links
- Banich, Marie T., and Rebecca J. Compton. "Cognitive Neuroscience." Cengage Learning, 2010.
- Brandt, Michelle L. "Ralph Paffenbarger, renowned exercise authority, dies at 84." Stanford Report. July 25, 2007. (May 15, 2011) http://news.stanford.edu/news/2007/july25/med-paffobit-072507.html
- Buschbacher, Ralph M. et al. "Sports Medicine & Rehabilitation: A Sport-Specific Approach." Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2008.
- Clover, Jim. "Sports Medicine Essentials: Core Concepts in Athletic Training & Fitness Instruction." Cengage Learning, 2007.
- "Heart & Vascular Health & Prevention: Tennis: Stronger Mind & Body." Cleveland Clinic. (May 15, 2011) http://my.clevelandclinic.org/heart/prevention/exercise/tennis.aspx
- "How To Prevent and Control Coronary Heart Disease Risk Factors." National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. (May 21, 2011) http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/hd/hd_prevention.html
- Huddleston, Alan L., Ph.D. et al. "Bone Mass in Lifetime Tennis Athletes." Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 244, No. 10, September 5, 1980. http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/244/10/1107.full.pdf
- Mayo Clinic Staff. "Depression and Anxiety: Exercise Eases Symptoms." Mayo Clinic. October 23, 2009. (May 19, 2011)
- Mayo Clinic Staff. "Exercise for Weight Loss: Calories Burned in 1 Hour." Mayo Clinic, December 1, 2009. (June 7, 2011) http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/depression-and-exercise/MH00043
- NIH Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center. "Exercise for Bone Health." National Institutes of Health. January 2009. http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Bone/Bone_Health/Exercise/default.asp
- Ratey, John, M.D. "A User's Guide to the Brain: Perception, Attention, and the Four Theaters of the Brain." Random House Digital, 2002.
- "Tennis - health benefits." Better Health Channel, State Government of Victoria. January 2011. (May 20, 2011) http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Tennis?open
- University of California, Berkeley. "The New Wellness Encyclopedia." Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1995.
- Woods, Kathy, and Ron Woods. "Playing Tennis After 50." Human Kinetics, 2008.