The Healthiest People in The World Do This Easy Blue Zones Workout

racquet sports"
racquet sports
Graphics by: Aryana Johnson
Graphics by: Aryana Johnson

People are going to great lengths (and paying a pretty penny) to achieve eternal youth—anti-aging cosmetic products or skin treatments, supplements and elixirs, and pricey procedures—but according to two recent studies and research on The Blue Zones, the secret to longevity could be as simple as a racquet. Well, that is, what you do with it. You already know that regular physical activity can improve health and move the needle toward a longer life, but new research shows that racquet sports come out on top for increasing lifespan. Ahead, we explore the reasons why, as well as tips to start incorporating racquet sports into your workout routine.

Why are racquet sports linked with longevity?

Findings from 2018 and 2022 research showed that participants who frequently played racquet sports (namely tennis, badminton, and pickleball) had greater life expectancies than those who took part in other activities like running, cycling, and swimming. But why do racquet sports promote a longer life more than other forms of movement? Experts weigh in.

They engage the full body

Playing racquet sports requires muscles throughout the body to carry out multiple simultaneous actions like sprints and lunging to hit the ball. “These sports engage multiple muscle groups, promoting overall muscular strength, flexibility, and coordination,” conveyed Andrew White, an NASM-certified personal trainer and cofounder of Garage Gym Pro. “Sprinting, lunging, and swinging also enhance core stability and agility.” Joel Totoro, RD, Director of Sports Science at Thorne, added that these movements are also a great way to strengthen both the upper body and legs, as well as improve balance, reflexes, and general mobility.

Dr. Valter Longo, the director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California, shared on The Blue Zones official website that the most important factor of physical health is working all your body parts with rigor (to the point of breathing rapidly or sweating) for 5-10 hours a week. Studies demonstrate multicomponent training improves overall physical function, muscle strength, walking speed, and aerobic capacity and is an effective way to prevent falls and adverse conditions as you get older—all of which point to a healthier, longer life.

They’re low-impact

White cited that racquet sports are relatively low-impact, which makes them suitable for all ages and reduces the risk of injury while still providing a vigorous workout. Unlike intense high-impact exercises, low-impact workouts allow you to pay closer attention to form and don’t lead to wear and tear of joints. Based on the evidence of a 2020 study, continuous moderate activity maintains cardiovascular health and improves life expectancy. The 2022 JAMA Network Open study came to a similar conclusion: Individuals who reported very high levels of participation in higher-intensity activities (i.e., running, swimming, and aerobic activity) had slightly higher mortality risk compared to those who reported more moderate levels.

They provide mental stimulation

The benefits don’t end at your physical health; they’re good for mental health, too. “Racquet sports’ strategic nature challenges your brain, improving neural connections that help maintain cognitive function as you age,” White expressed. “Competitiveness can also boost mental health and mood.” The 2022 JAMA Network Open study pointed out that racquet sports also require hand-eye coordination, which may additionally improve physical functioning. Mental stimulation and regular exercise (both of which racquet sports check off) have been shown to enhance cognitive health, preserve mental sharpness, and contribute to longevity.

They involve social interaction

You cannot play racquet sports solo (someone needs to hit the ball back, after all), and they are typically done as social gatherings, which yields benefits of its own. Researchers from the 2018 Mayo Clinic Proceedings study concluded sports that involve more social interaction were associated with the best longevity. Other research has shown that strong social connection leads to a 50 percent increased chance of longevity. Plus, having a strong, positive social community is one of the pillars of the longest-living Blue Zones. “Racquet sports are often associated with longevity compared to other sports such as running or contact sports because of the social-emotional benefits,” Totoro agreed. “In addition to the positive impact of general exercise on one’s mental and physical health, the health benefits of making new friendships and playing on a team translates to stronger social connections, which has been proven to positively impact overall health and wellness.” 

How to try racquet sports for yourself

Racquet sports serve as a way to challenge yourself mentally and physically but also fill your social cup. Thanks to the popularity of pickleball and the resurgence of tenniscore, there is no shortage of opportunities to try your hand at racquet sports. Not sure where to start? White provided some tips to ease into them:

Choose the right type of racquet sport for you

Start with a racquet sport that best suits your interests and fitness level. While badminton and pickleball are more accessible for beginners, tennis is a more challenging, strenuous workout.

Start slowly

Dip your toes into the sport by hitting the appropriate ball against a wall or playing mini-practice games to build your skills before participating in full matches. And be sure to do a proper warm-up.

Take lessons or join a clinic

Consider looking into lessons or a clinic at your local park or club. These can provide you with the basic skills and rules of the game, making the experience more enjoyable and effective.

Find a partner or group to play with

Whether pickleball, tennis, or badminton, you need a partner to rally with. Enlist a friend or your SO for a match, or find a local club or community group to join where you can find players at your skill level. Bonus points if you make new friends or maybe even manifest an IRL meet-cute.

Invest in the right gear

If you’re new to the sport, you may not want to go all in until you know you’re going to stick with it. Find a sports equipment store that offers rentals or sells starter kits. If you are a seasoned player or know you’ll stick with it, it may be worth investing in equipment. Wear comfortable, breathable clothing and proper footwear to prevent injuries (any excuse to buy a tennis dress, consider me there).

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