Want to live longer? Here are the sports you should do

These people (average age 52, more than half women) were followed up for an average of nine years, and any deaths recorded. By making you healthier, exercise helps add years to lifespan - and it improves health span as well, meaning that fit people stay "physically younger" and more capable during those years.

"It's all indoor and it just allows people to play for longer and more often as much as they want to play". They become spectators rather than participants in their chosen activity.

He added: 'I will continue to tell my patients that regular physical activity (including running) is more effective in reducing their risk of heart disease than any drug I can prescribe'.

Ulf Ekelund, a physical activity epidemiologist at the University of Cambridge and professor in physical activity and health at the Norwegian School of Sport Sciences, in Oslo, said the key message from the research was not that one activity was more likely to stave off death than another, but that sport in general is beneficial. They say they probably just didn't see a significant connection both because there were a low number of deaths in the entire group overall (8,790) and because a number of people may have said they went for a run or a jog in the past month without actually being consistent runners.

The health benefits of physical activity are legion, but to try and quantify the impact of different types of sports and exercise on the odds of beating death, the researchers analysed data from 11 nationally representative annual health surveys for England and Scotland, carried out between 1994 and 2008.

Swimming proved to be a stroke against heart disease and stroke.

While no significant protective effects were found for football and running, the other sports appeared to reduce the risk of dying, in particular from a cardiovascular disease.

Adults participating in a high overall level of sports and exercise are at 34% lower risk of death
123RF Adults participating in a high overall level of sports and exercise are at 34% lower risk of death

Cardiovascular diseases constitute the leading cause of death globally. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more people die annually from this than from any other cause, with 17.5 million deaths recorded in 2012.

While the researchers found taking part in some sports reduced the risk of death compared to not taking part, they did not directly compare the benefits of different sports. Running, soccer, and rugby, in contrast, didn't seem to have much effect on risk of death at all.

That said, Prof Stamatakis says it's easy to hypothesise why racquet sports had the greatest association with lower mortality. Additionally, because these sports tend to be seasonal, even an avid football or rugby player might have long periods where they do not play a match.

"Participation in specific sports may have various benefits for health".

Researchers found that people who played racket sports - badminton, squash, and tennis - had 47% lower risk of dying from any cause.

The list of activities included cycling, swimming, running, football (called soccer in the United States), racquet sports (including badminton, tennis and squash) and aerobics (including gymnastics, Pilates and dance classes).

  • Delores Daniels