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Expert Comment: the benefits of playing tennis as we age

bahrami Wednesday 17 June 2015

As the Liverpool Hope International Tennis Tournament begins, Dr Omid Alizadehkhaiyat (MD PhD), Associate Professor in Health Sciences and leader of our new MSc in Exercise and Ageing, discusses the health benefits of playing tennis as we age.   

Currently there is a general appreciation that physical activity and exercise play a key role in preventing and delaying the deleterious physical, physiological, and psychological conditions commonly associated with ageing. A sufficient amount of regular physical activity and exercise leads to improved cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, and psychosocial health, decreased comorbidities resulting from chronic diseases such as diabetes and osteoporosis, and declined premature death. These health benefits are imperative for successful and healthy ageing, particularly at this time, when there is a worldwide increase in longevity. As a result, the science underpinning types of sporting activities with potential health benefits in older adults has attracted exceptional attention around the globe.

For several decades, tennis has been projected as a lifetime and all-round sport with the potential to avert age-related functional decline and produce health benefits in older players. Some even claim that no other activity offers as wide a rang of overall health as tennis! In Europe and Canada, ‘‘veteran’’ tennis player refers to a male or female player aged >45 and >40 years, respectively.

In the US, the term ‘‘senior’’ typically refers to any player aged >50 years regardless of gender. I personally favour calling them “Master Athletes” as the majority of them remain competitive and attempt to maintain or even enhance over their performance at younger ages. Some evidence exists to support the positive health impact of tennis in active Master players in terms of improved aerobic capacity, greater bone density, lesser body fat, greater strength, and well-maintained cognitive function. This is perhaps because exercise intensity during tennis participation effortlessly meets exercise recommendations for the older adults i.e. accumulation of at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity per day, five days a week. A classic tennis match lasting from 30 minutes to several hours involves three to seven miles of running and 300-500 energy bursts due to frequent rapid changes in direction.

It is important to note that while general health benefits of tennis are broadly documented, the most significant health benefit of tennis participation in Master players may best labelled as lifelong improvements in their “functional health” and “independency” by means of strong gait mechanics, enhanced balance, reduced risk of falls and fractures, and meaningful engagement in daily activities.

Initiatives such as Liverpool Hope International Tennis Tournament, or similar ones in other countries such as Tennis: For the Health of It (USA) provide excellent settings for promoting tennis and spreading the word about its health benefits. Further longitudinal research is of great importance to scientifically determine mechanisms by which tennis participation leads to the gain of above stated health benefits. 

Liverpool Hope University is the title sponsor of the Liverpool Hope International Tennis Tournament which takes place 18th-21st June 2015.

MSc Exercise and Ageing

Dr Omid Alizadehkhaiyat (MD PhD) – full profile

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