If you’ve ever finished sweating it out on a tennis court only to be told by a smug runner or cyclist friend that your sport of choice isn’t “real” exercise, rage no more.
Exercise duration and intensity recommendations have changed since the 1990s and, while the benefits of cycling, swimming and running can’t be denied, recent studies show that tennis offers significant health advantages to participants.
Read on as we bust some common myths about tennis and keep in mind that tennis’ health and wellbeing benefits are on offer whether you’re a lifelong player or you’ve just taken up the sport.
Sweating, heart pounding, short of breath? Not sure what part of that doesn’t seem like hard work? Oxygen consumption is a good measure of a sport’s effectiveness in improving cardiovascular fitness and aerobic endurance because the higher a person’s oxygen consumption during exercise, the more energy they can produce and the harder they can work.
In singles players, oxygen consumption measures between 50 and 80 per cent of VO2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen that an individual can utilise during intense exercise).
This level of oxygen consumption means tennis is classed as vigorous or high-intensity exercise, which has a number of benefits including reducing the risk of high blood pressure, some cancers, strokes and diabetes, aiding weight loss and increasing muscle mass.
Heart rate is another good measure of exertion. Studies have measured heart rates in singles players at between 141±16 and 182±12 beats per minute or 70 to 90 per cent of maximum heart rate. That’s the level at which aerobic capacity and athletic performance are improved and means tennis exerts you as much as power walking a mile*, jogging and cycling.
* In fewer than 14 minutes.
The 1990′s belief that continuous, vigorous exercise for a minimum 20 minutes three times a week was the only way to get fit is so last century! Now experts say 30-minutes of moderate daily exercise has equal health benefits.
Where tennis has an advantage over sports like jogging, cycling and swimming is because it’s easy for people of any age to take up, and to stick to later in life.
Studies have shown tennis players to have high fitness levels in comparison to non-tennis playing contemporaries with lower, blood pressure, increased strength and metabolism. Tennis players also have strong hearts with lower resting heart rates and reduced risk of heart attack, stroke and coronary artery disease, colon cancer and some forms of diabetes.
Playing singles for one hour burns approximately 600 calories in men and 420 calories in women making it as effective as lifting weights or a spin class.
An American study found that 18 to 34 year olds who played tennis, ran, jogged or power walked were less likely to be obese than team-sport players.
Recreational tennis players aged between 23 and 69 who participate twice a week have been found to carry almost four per cent less body fat than non-tennis playing counterparts and elite veteran male tennis players aged from 40 to 60-years-old-plus are, on average, three per cent leaner than active, non-tennis playing contemporaries.
Not convinced by the science? Well, there are plenty of other good reasons to keep playing tennis or take up the sport.
All facts and statistics taken from Health Benefits of Tennis (2007); (Babette M Pluim, J Bart Staal, Bonita L Marks, Stuart Miller, Dave Miley); British Journal of Sports Medicine.