A new study in The British Journal of Sports Medicine using data from 11 health surveys for England and Scotland between 1994 and 2008 suggests that tennis reduces mortality rates 47 percent, the highest rate of any sport studied. In comparison, swimmers had only a 28 percent reduction in mortality rate. The tennis industry is touting this study all over social and mainstream media, with headlines about how "Tennis has now been proven by science to be the best sport to live longer." I worry that we in tennis are getting carried away here with sensationalized journalism that misrepresents the facts and ultimately undermines our credibility.
Is tennis really healthier than swimming? I doubt it. This was an observational study which found Correlation between tennis participation and reduced mortality, not Causation. So maybe tennis makes you healthier or perhaps people with greater awareness and access to treating health concerns play tennis. Furthermore, since this study indicates that the group of runners were significantly younger than the group of tennis players, and since the overall mortality rates of those at a younger age is way lower than those at older ages, exercise would have a lesser mortality rate impact on the runner's group.
Exercise is healthy for you, especially as you age, and tennis a great sport to stay fit throughout your life.
I am skeptical however about a study that tells me tennis is superior to swimming, running, cycling, basketball and other moderate to high intensity activities when it comes to health and longevity. We will not grow as a sport by representing to athletes in other sports that we are elitists. We need scientific research to progress as a sport, but we need to use scientific data responsibly.
Steve Kaplan is the Owner and Managing Director of Bethpage Park Tennis Center, as well as Director Emeritus of Lacoste Academy for New York City Parks Foundation and Executive Director and Founder of Serve & Return Inc. Steve has coached more than 1,100 nationally-ranked junior players, 16 state high school champions, two NCAA Division 1 Singles Champions, and numerous highly-ranked touring professionals. Many of the students Steve has closely mentored have gone to achieve great success as prominent members of the New York financial community, and in other prestigious professions. In 2017, Steve was awarded the Hy Zausner Lifetime Achievement Award by the USTA. He may be reached by e-mail at StevenJKaplan@aol.com.