So, we’ve convinced you that exercising regularly can extend your lifespan, but what type of exercise is best for longevity benefits? A new study published November 28th in the British Journal of Sports Medicine reveals the best type of exercise for decreasing your risk of death from heart disease or all-cause mortality.

High-Intensity Wins the Race

Researchers from Europe and Australia examined data collated from 80,000 people over a period of 9 years. They looked for an association between 6 different types of sports/exercises and risk of death from cardiovascular disease and all causes. The exercises in order of popularity were swimming, cycling, aerobics, running/jogging, racket sports, and football (soccer) or rugby. The clear winner for longevity benefits is racket sports, such as tennis, badminton, and squash.

➢   Racket sports lowered risk of premature death by 47%
➢   Swimming lowered risk of premature death by 28%
➢   Aerobics lowered risk of premature death by 27%

Cycling, running, and soccer showed no such longevity gains.

Racket sports also lowered risk of death from heart disease more than the other exercises did. Specifically, racket sports lowered risk of death from heart disease by 56%, swimming by 41%, and aerobics by 36%.

Findings suggest that exercise, regardless of the type, reduced risk of death by 28%, confirming that any variety of exercise is better than no exercise at all.

Full-Body Interval Training Does the Trick

Racket sports, swimming, and aerobics are all full-body exercises, meaning they require the use of your arms and legs (your full body). Full-body workouts require extra effort from the heart, which is one reason why they may be so effective at increasing longevity.

Exercises such as racket sports are naturally high-intensity interval training workouts. A game of tennis provides ample opportunities to play hard, fast, and intense, with brief rest and recovery periods in between. Research confirms that exercise that incorporates intense bursts of activity may provide more longevity benefits than slower and more sustained cardio efforts. The Cleveland Clinic Foundation reports that performing racket sports, and other stop-and-start activities, for 3 hours a week can significantly lower your blood pressure and slash your risk of developing heart disease.

High-intensity interval training workouts such as racket sports help to reprogram your muscles for strength and activate your fast-twitch muscle fibers, which stimulates the production of human growth hormone. High-intensity bursts also catalyze mitochondrial biogenesis, a key ingredient for longevity. A study published in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism showed that high-intensity exercise influences mitochondrial enzyme levels, thereby enhancing cellular energy production and decreasing the risk for developing chronic disease or succumbing to accelerated aging.

Variety Is the Spice of Life

Not a fan of racket sports? No problem! Pick your activities according to preference, and keep them varied. Swimming fared almost as well in the study as racket sports did, and swimming is a much more accessible activity for those with chronic conditions, mobility issues, or osteoarthritis. And let’s not rule out running. Researchers noted that running may not have shown a statistical reduction in mortality risk because participants who ran were, on average, younger, and a longer follow-up period may have shown more significant benefit. As for cycling, many of the participants cycled recreationally to and from work, as opposed to vigorously, which may have skewed the results away from statistically relevant longevity benefits.

How Much Exercise Do I Need?

The recommended weekly allowance for exercise is 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity for people ages 18 to 65. Doing much more than this doesn’t seem to have an effect on longevity benefits. According to a 2015 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, engaging in 10 times the recommended amount of activity didn’t provide any extra reduction in mortality risk. 150 minutes is just 2.5 hours of exercise a week—a small amount of time to dedicate to wellness and increased longevity!