By Heather L. Dyson
When we think about exercise, our mind usually conjures up images of long hours on the treadmill and neverending sets of curls, crunches, and squats. You may even long for the fabled days of youth where everything you did involved running, jumping, throwing, and anything in between. As an adult, the dream of fun and exercise together doesn’t have to end; with racquet sports like tennis, you can support a healthier lifestyle and have a great time along the way.
Hitting the tennis courts regularly can help support numerous areas of your health. For starters, tennis is a sport that provides a great aerobic workout. With the running and reaching, your body is almost constantly in motion during a tennis match, especially when playing one-on-one (called “singles”). When we are active in this way, our heart has to pump it up (pun intended) in order to keep blood flowing throughout the body and bring oxygen to all those hard-working muscles. Getting your heart rate up encourages your heart to become more efficient in this work. With regular moderate to high intensity exercise, the heart enlarges slightly and the walls of the heart thicken, which allows it to pump more blood with each beat (1). Not only does this help improve your aerobic performance, but it can also support a lower resting heart rate which has been linked to lower rates of cardiovascular disease and risk of heart attack (1). You don’t have to be sprinting across the courts to reap this kind of benefit though; depending on your age and current level of fitness, light to moderate aerobic activity can have this same positive effect (2). No matter how old you are, you can love your heart with a friendly game of tennis!
Tennis not only strengthens the heart but also the bones. Your skeletal system works hard during a tennis match because of how it is utilized. In sport, the bones experience what is called “loading” where a physical stress or demand is placed on them. When bones are loaded, they adapt to the demands and become stronger in response to these dynamic stressors they are being put through (3). As these demanding movements are repeated over and over again, especially with impact such as striking the ball, your bones will experience an increase in overall density (3). Greater bone density supports optimal overall health and is especially important in aging adults to protect against fractures and breaks due to falls or other injuries. But it isn’t just adults that can reap the benefits. Children are strongly encouraged to engage in activities like tennis that will stress their bones at an early age because this can actually support lower rates of bone loss as they age (3). This lifelong impact can improve overall aging and allow people to enjoy sport and physical activity for years to come.
Tennis isn’t just good for the body, but also the brain. This fast-paced sport can actually enhance your body’s ability to increase cell production in the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain that houses learning and memory functioning (3). Due to the reactive nature of sports, any level of sports activity can enhance hand-eye coordination, reaction time, and the mind-body connection. These things all contribute to better overall cognition and how you can interact with your surroundings. Additionally, it has been found that regular involvement in a sport such as tennis can contribute to improved overall mood and was linked to lower rates of depression and anxiety (4). By playing tennis, you can develop social connections, build greater self-confidence, and develop new skills that support lifelong learning and development.
Tennis is more than just a fun game to play with friends. While there are many wonderful social benefits to tennis, this sport also contributes to greater overall mental and physical health throughout your life. So next time you are dying to move but dreading the treadmill, grab a racquet and hit the courts! You’ll still get an amazing workout and have a great time too!
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