Exploring the best exercises for heart health

You all know how important regular physical activity is for maintain the health of your heart, but could some exercises be more beneficial for you than others? A research team from the University of Sydney is about to find out.

Associate professor Emmanuel Stamatakis has joined forces with an international team of researchers to get to the heart of the matter (do you like what we did there?) and has looked at what forms of vigorous activity have a greater impact on your health.

The results of the study were published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Surveying more than 80,000 adults with an average age of 52 over 12 years from 1994, the research team looked at the relationship between regular participation in six common sports and premature death. Each participant was asked direct questions about the type of activity, the regularity, intensity and duration of their involvement and additional questions about their general health.

Collating the survey results, and adjusting scores based on socio-economic status and whether or not the participant was a smoker or drinker, the research team discovered that one sport in particular had great benefits to reducing your risk of premature death.

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While in Australia the most popular physical activity is walking, followed by aerobics, swimming, cycling and jogging, none of these were found to be as beneficial to your health as racquet sports.

Stamatakis says the risk of death among those who participated in racquet sports was 47 per cent less, while they were 56 per cent less likely to suffer from heart disease.

What makes racquet sports so beneficial?

According to Stamatakis, it all comes down to the characteristics of the activity.

“It’s characterised by short bouts of intense activity in a way that they mimic high-intensity interval training,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald.

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If you aren’t into racquet sports — think squash, tennis, badminton and the like — swimming might be more your cup of tea. The good news here is that swimming (a whole-body exercise) offers the second highest protection from premature death and heart disease.

Aerobics, which includes dancing activities, ranked third among the sports likely to extend your life.

All that said though, you don’t have to change your physical activity routine if you are happy doing what you are doing. As Stamatakis says, “The key thing is can [you] stick with it?”

What forms of physical activity are you involved in? Do you enjoy particular sports? Tell us about them.