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THE INC. LIFE

This is the Kind of Exercise You Should Do to Live a Longer, Happier Life

Researchers studied exercise habits of 8,500 people over 25 years to find which exercise kept people alive the longest.

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BY Betsy Mikel - 06 Sep 2018

This is the Kind of Exercise You Should Do to Live a Longer, Happier Life

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The morning routine of a successful CEO tends to go something like this: Wake up at an ungodly hour. Meditate. Exercise vigorously while the rest of the world sleeps. Usually it's some form of solitary activity such as running, cycling or hitting their private gym.

These CEOs may be in peak physical shape, no doubt. But if they want to live longer, it might be time to switch up the exercise routine. They might consider getting a tennis partner or even picking up a badminton racket. A new study finds that people who played these partner sports lived several years longer than people who worked out solo.

The case for a workout buddy

The study was published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Researchers studied the exercise habits of thousands of people over a 25-year period. Their goal was to identify which types of exercise were better for longevity. They used the Copenhagen City Heart Study, which includes data from 8,500 Danish men and women.

Sedentary people didn't live as long. No surprise there.

Those who exercised regularly lived longer lives. What's more, their exercise of choice seemed to impact how much longer they lived.

Some preferred more social activities, such as playing soccer, tennis and even badminton. Others were more solitary, saying they most commonly jogged or biked alone. Still others did their own thing at the gym.

Though the solitary exercisers lived longer than the sedentary people, they didn't live as long as the tennis and badminton players. Those who exercised in pairs or participated in team sports tended to have longer lives. The researchers concluded that the benefits of exercise increase when you add a social component.

In other words, a workout buddy was the key ingredient to these people's longevity.

Here's how much longer people who played the following sports lived compared to those who were sedentary:

  • Tennis: 9.7 years longer
  • Badminton: 6.2 years longer
  • Soccer: 4.7 years longer
  • Cycling: 3.7 years longer
  • Swimming: 3.4 years longer
  • Jogging: 3.2 years longer
  • Calisthenics: 3.1 years longer
  • Health club activities: 1.5 years longer

People who played tennis lived an average of 8.2 years longer than those who frequented the gym. The researchers also found that the duration of exercise wasn't so important. The gym goers logged the most time exercising per week, but landed at the bottom of the longevity results. Of course, any exercise is better than zero exercise. But to get the most out of your workout -- and add a few years to your life -- it might make sense to grab a friend.

Strong social connections help us live longer

"For both mental and physical well-being and longevity, we're understanding that our social connections are probably the single-most important feature of living a long, healthy, happy life," study co-author Dr. James O'Keefe told Time Health.

Though the researchers controlled for factors such as socioeconomic background, education and drinking, the study did not account for the fact that wealthier people may be more likely to pay tennis. Wealthier people tend to be healthier in general.

There's still plenty to chew on here though. O'Keefe points out that people playing tennis usually converse. It's not just a physical activity. Developing emotional bonds with people is part of the game. What's more, tennis and other social sports have baked-in accountability. You're less likely to bail on your tennis playdate if you know your partner is expecting you. It's far easier to ditch your solo workout at the gym. So it's possible that the tennis players ended up being more consistent in their exercise, which further contributed to their longevity.

O'Keefe himself found these results so compelling that he told Time he and his family started playing badminton. Although he already runs and lifts weights, he now picks up a badminton racket just for the fun of it. And when exercise is fun and doesn't feel like a chore, that's the best kind of exercise of all -- especially if it helps you live longer!

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