Kansas City, MO – Have you ever had to decide whether to go to the gym alone or meet up with a friend to play volleyball? Game-changing research from might just help you make your decision. This landmark study evaluated the different improvements in life expectancy associated with participation in various sports. The findings show that the best types of exercise for improving life expectancy are social sports that involve playing with friends. 

Various sports are correlated with distinctly different improvements in life expectancy. Tennis, badminton, and soccer outperform solitary strenuous exercise pursuits like running, swimming and cycling for boosting longevity. The least effective form of exercise was health club activities, including workouts on a treadmill and/or other indoor stationary exercise machines, which improved life expectancy only 1.5 years compared to a sedentary lifestyle. In contrast, the highly social activities like racquet sports, golf, and soccer increased life expectancy by 5 to 10 years. Running, swimming and cycling were in the middle of the pack, adding about 3 to 4 years of life compared to an inactive routine. 

The Copenhagen City Heart Study, published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings, is a long-term population study that collected and analyzed data about leisure-time physical activities on 8577 study participants. The data were statistically adjusted using rigorous and comprehensive methodology to tease out the various sports’ independent effects on long-term survival. Over a 25-year follow up period, the different leisure time physical activities were linked to the widely divergent effects on mortality as noted above. Lead authors included cardiologists Peter Schnohr, James O’Keefe, and Carl Lavie along with biostatistician Jacob Marott. 

“It appears that the single most important feature of one’s exercise routine is that it should involve a play-date. Play is Mother Nature’s remedy for stress,” said Dr. James O’Keefe, cardiologist at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, “If we are looking for an exercise to improve longevity, we would do well to get together regularly with at least one other person to do some physical activity that feels like fun.” 

The paper, published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings: Various Leisure-Time Physical Activities Associated With Widely Divergent Life Expectancies: The Copenhagen City Heart Study.

Dr. O’Keefe recently presented at a TEDx Talk in Manchester, England about this study, called “Go Outside and Play with Your Friends.”

The Copenhagen City Heart Study


“Interestingly, the study aligns nicely with another breaking study recently published in The Lancet,” O’Keefe continued. “The Lancet study also found that among the various types of exercise it was the activities that required two or more people to play together such as team sports (basketball, soccer, etc.) and group activities like racquet sports or golf were best for improving mental health. 

About Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute
Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute, a member of Saint Luke’s Health System and a teaching affiliate of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, is one of the preeminent cardiovascular programs in the country. Its legacy of innovation began more than 25 years ago when it opened as the nation’s first heart hospital. Since then, the Heart Institute has earned a world-wide reputation for excellence in the treatment of heart disease, including interventional cardiology, cardiovascular surgery, imaging, heart failure, transplant, heart disease prevention, women’s heart disease, electrophysiology, outcomes research, and health economics. With more than 50 full-time board certified cardiovascular specialists on staff, the Heart Institute offers one of the largest heart failure/heart transplant programs in the country, has the largest experience with transcatheter aortic valve replacement in the Midwest, and is a global teaching site for the newest approaches to opening challenging blocked arteries using minimally invasive techniques.

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