Heart Health: How tennis, and other endurance sports, can add years to your life

Young couple on tennis court. Handsome man and attractive woman are playing tennis.

Donald Wayne, MD, is a physician within the UC Health Internal Medicine Department, and has been recognized as one of the best doctors in America and top doctors in Cincinnati. Dr. Wayne specializes in cardiology and has been practicing for 36 years. Here is his insight on how tennis and other endurance sports can impact heart health.

How can tennis, and other endurance sports, add years to your life? What does research say for this and have we conducted research on this topic?
Several studies have looked at exercise and its role in improving mortality data. The effect of at least 75 minutes of exercise per week has shown a 19 percent reduction in the risk of death. This was equivalent to around 1.8 years added to one’s life. This was found to be true for everyone – no matter their body type, sex or race. Normal weight, overweight and obese people all derived benefits from exercise.

How often each week should you perform endurance exercises to get the best results for your cardiovascular health?
The frequency of exercise should be at least four times per week for a minimum of 150 minutes per week to achieve a significant benefit from exercise.

Can you overdo it with endurance sports? For example, professional tennis players undergo strenuous training sessions to compete against the best in the world. What would be signs of them overtraining?
The answer is not clear. There is some recent preliminary data to suggest that high mileage runners may have decreased longevity. At present there is no conclusive data to support this. There is no definitive answer on the optimum amount of exercise for health and longevity.

What is a target heart rate, and how do you find it?
Target heart rate is the recommended rate to exercise at to achieve maximal benefit from exercise. This rate is calculated by taking 100 percent of target, 220, minus the age of the individual. It is recommended to exercise at 55-80 percent of the predicted target rate. So for a 60 year old, the maximal target would be 160 beats per minute and exercise should be done at between 88-136 beats per minute.

How would you advise beginners to start off doing endurance exercises?
For someone just starting to exercise, I would advise them to see their physician prior to initiation of exercise to make sure that they’re able to engage in an exercise program. Once they begin the program, they should start slowly and advance their activity as they’re able to increase their physical performance.

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