Doing the Right Sport?

(January 24th, 2017) New Year, new me – people around the world take the turn of the year as a chance to get healthier and fitter. But what sport is the best to reach your goals? Football, running, or perhaps Zumba? Finnish researchers might know the answer.

The same procedure as every year: At the beginning of January, people's minds are filled with New Year's resolutions - quitting smoking, drinking less alcohol or eating healthier. But by far one of the most popular goals is to exercise more to lose weight. Because, let's be honest, especially during the holidays, our bellies get bigger and bigger and we feel more guilty every day. The tighter the belt gets, the more the motivation rises. So just jump on the treadmill or dive into a swimming pool. It is not important what you are doing, as long as you are active. Right?

Pekka Oja from the UKK Institute for Health Promotion Research in Finland and his colleagues asked themselves the same question: are there some specific activities, which are more health-enhancing than others?

To answer this question, Oja and his team started to evaluate studies from the Health Survey for England and the Scottish Health Survey. In these surveys from the 1990s, different households had been interviewed, ever year, about their physical activity. The participants had to estimate how often they had exercised in the past four weeks and how much time they had spent doing so. Additionally, they were asked how intense their workout was, based on their breath frequency and sweating. In total, Oja's group processed the answers of 80,306 men and women with a mean age of 52. Unfortunately, only 44.3% of the participants met the national physical activity guidelines. The most common activities mentioned were swimming, cycling, aerobics, running, racquet sports and football.

Interestingly, Oja and Co. discovered differences between the sport's effects on longevity and the risk of dying of cardiovascular diseases. Adults, who went swimming, did aerobics and racquet sports, such as badminton, tennis and squash, had a significantly reduced risk of all-cause and cardiovascular-disease mortality. Football and running, however, had no significant influence.

Oja and his colleagues began to wonder, why football, in particular, had such little effect on health. Just a year ago, they had shown that football indeed improves aerobic fitness, cardiovascular function and reduces adiposity. They “blamed” the latest result on the low prevalence of football among the participants and the consequential weaker statistical power.

So what does this mean for our New Year's resolution? Should we concentrate on swimming, aerobics, and racquet sports, while neglecting football and running? Does the key to longevity lie in badminton, etc.? Well, in the study, Oja and his team emphasise the positive influence of some sports when it comes to total health and death risk. But as usual, more research is needed, especially including long-time changes in participants' behaviour towards sport.

On the last page of Oja's article, he clarifies that his and other studies are mainly important to develop sport programmes and to motivate people to get physically active. Because the problem is not whether football or running is better for your health than tennis – but rather, the fact that way too few people are exercising enough.

So, if you want to go swimming – go swimming. If you want to try football – then do so. People should not ponder whether running or tennis is the better choice for better health. They should rather just do a sport, which, in the best case, is fun. In the end, it is not a matter of what kind of exercise you are doing. As long as you are doing something at all and you are enjoying it, you're on the best road to achieving your New Year's resolution.

Juliet Merz

Photo: b

Last Changes: 02.17.2017