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A study just published in the British Medical Journal of Sports Medicine explores the association between different types of exercise and the risk of dying in the subsequent decade.

Researchers analysed data from 11 annual health surveys for England and Scotland conducted between 1994 and 2008.  Over 80,000 adults with an average age of 52 were asked about their physical activity in the previous four weeks including a range of sports, gardening, DIY and walking and whether the exercise had made them sweat and breathless.  Their survival rates were tracked over the next nine years and potential confounders including long-standing illness, BMI, alcohol consumption and smoking were taken into account.

Compared to those who reported doing no physical activity in the previous month, people who had played racquet sports had a 47% lower risk of death in the next ten years, swimmers had a 28% lower risk, people who did aerobics had a 27% lower risk and cyclists had a 15% lower risk. There was no significant reduction in mortality for runners, joggers, or those who played football or rugby.

Charlie Foster, Deputy Director of the BHF Centre on Population Approaches to Non-Communicable Disease Prevention, explained that the reason that running, jogging, football and rugby did not appear to show any benefits was likely to be because the people who took part in those sports were on average ten years younger than the other groups. They will be followed up in five years’ time.

For aerobics the higher the intensity, duration and amount of activity the greater the reduction in risk, whereas for other types of activity, particularly cycling and swimming lower intensity activity was better than higher intensity, or no activity at all.

The researchers cautioned that as the study was observational no firm conclusions could be drawn about cause and effect. They also noted that the short recall period of one month and seasonality of certain sports may also have affected the results. However they concluded that taking part in specific sports may have significant benefits for public health.