We might not consciously think about the risk of death and trying to extend our lives when we head to the gym or put on our running shoes. Even though exercise and sports improve our physical health, most of us do it to feel good.

But if our goal is to stay healthy longer – maybe into our 70s, 80s or 90s – should we engage in specific types of activities?

Dr. Pekka Oja and other researchers in Finland recently published a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that looked at the odds of death among people who regularly participate in different sports or exercise. They collected data on over 80,000 British adults between 1994 and 2008.

The adults were surveyed on their daily physical activity. They included exercise – cycling, swimming, dance, running – and sports – gymnastics, football (soccer), rugby, badminton, tennis and squash. Even vigorous home activity like gardening, chores and maintenance were studied.

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Activities that lower the risk of death

Compared to controls who had not participated in sports or exercise, people who did these activities had a lower risk of death:

• Racquet sports – 47% lower risk of death
• Swimming – 28% lower
• Cycling – 15% lower

Interestingly, running, football and rugby did not show a lower risk of death.

Looking specifically at the risk of death from cardiovascular disease (heart disease and stroke), these activities showed the greatest benefit:

• Racquet sports – 56% lower risk
• Swimming – 41% lower

Again, running, football and rugby showed no significant decrease in the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

Also read:
Signs you should go to the emergency room after a sports or exercise injury

Oja P, Kelly P, Pedisic Z, Titze S, Bauman A, Foster C, Hamer M, Hillsdon M, Stamatakis E. Associations of specific types of sports and exercise with all-cause and cardiovascular-disease mortality: a cohort study of 80 306 British adults. Br J Sports Med. 2016 Nov 28.