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Score One for Tennis: It's Good for the Heart

July 22, 2002|DIANNE PARTIE LANGE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Tennis may have a lot more going for it than a brisk workout, Wimbledon, and Venus and Serena Williams.

Researchers in Baltimore have found another possible benefit for the tennis set: a lower risk of heart disease. The findings come from a study at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine that tracked the health and physical activities of more than 1,000 medical students; some were tracked for up to 48 years after graduation.

Their findings: When compared with male athletes who participated in team sports like football and basketball during college, tennis players had a lower risk of heart disease later in life.

The study, published last month in the American Journal of Medicine, confirms something that health researchers have long suspected: that young people who take up sports such as tennis or swimming, which can be enjoyed throughout one's life, are more likely to stay involved in those activities as they age.

The researchers also found a link between one's tennis-playing skills and later health benefits.

The people who described themselves as quite proficient at tennis had a 55% lower risk of heart disease later in life than those who said they had no ability.

Those who played tennis poorly had a 37% lower risk of cardiovascular disease than those who had no skill.

"Much of this protective effect was seen because tennis players continued to play the sport well into middle age," says Dr. Michael J. Klag, a professor of internal medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Unlike tennis players, those who played team sports such as basketball and football were far less likely to continue playing those sports.

When the researchers questioned the men (at an average age of 48) about their activity years after graduation, 68% of them said they worked up a sweat in some way at least once a week.

The tennis players, though, were most likely to still be playing their sport. About a third of the good tennis players had played within the past week of the survey, and half had played within the last year. Few, if any, of the team sport players were still at it.

Good golfers, in contrast with those who played team sports, were a little more likely to be active in their sport. About 20% of them were still playing in middle age.

However, golf doesn't have the same aerobic benefit as tennis, and it was not associated with a lower risk of heart disease as the men grew older.

More than other popular sports, tennis seems to deliver a double advantage: a good aerobic workout that is likely to be sustained in middle age.

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Dianne Lange can be reached by e-mail at DianneLange@cs.com.

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