Doctors Prove It! Tennis is Heart Healthy!!

October 31, 2002 11:33 AM

NOTE: Much of the following information was taken out of a article written by Dr. Thomas H. Lee of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. It originally appeared online at

For years the United States Tennis Association has touted that tennis is truly the "sport for a lifetime," and a recent Johns Hopkins University study seems to have confirmed that fact.

"A very specific suggestion was provided by a recent report of a study from Johns Hopkins University begun in 1946. At that time, researchers began collecting detailed information on the medical history and health habits of Hopkins medical-school students, and then followed them with surveys every year thereafter. The newest study of the data collected looked at which sports were being played by 1,019 male medical students when they were at a median age of 22, and which ones they were playing when they were middle-aged. Then, the researchers analyzed which sports were associated with the lowest risk of dying from heart disease during an average follow-up period of 40 years." (for the complete article visit

Overall the study showed that:

  • Men who start playing tennis in their youth and are good at it (compared to those that are good at golf, football, baseball or basketball) are likely to continue playing the sport for years, thereby keeping heart disease at bay well into middle-age.
  • Tennis had the highest participation in mid-life out of the over 1,000 men surveyed and those playing tennis had a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease and heart attack compared to those who didn't play tennis.
  • Men who play tennis well had only a 12 percent risk of heart disease, and the men who played tennis poorly had a 15 percent rate. But the men who didn’t play tennis at all had a 28 percent rate of heart disease.

Additionally, the following article appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Monday, July 22, 2002. It appeared on page 1 of the HEALTH section.

Score One for Tennis: It's Good for the Heart
By: Dianne Partie Lange, Special To The Times

Tennis may have a lot more going for it than a brisk workout, Wimbledon, and Venus and Serena Williams.

Researchers in Baltimore have found another possible benefit for the tennis set: a lower risk of heart disease. The findings come from a study at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine that tracked the health and physical activities of more than 1,000 medical students; some were tracked for up to 48 years after graduation.

Their findings: When compared with male athletes who participated in team sports like football and basketball during college, tennis players had a lower risk of heart disease later in life.

The study, published last month in the American Journal of Medicine, confirms something that health researchers have long suspected: that young people who take up sports such as tennis or swimming, which can be enjoyed throughout one's life, are more likely to stay involved in those activities as they age.

The researchers also found a link between one's tennis-playing skills and later health benefits.

The people who described themselves as quite proficient at tennis had a 55% lower risk of heart disease later in life than those who said they had no ability.

Those who played tennis poorly had a 37% lower risk of cardiovascular disease than those who had no skill.

"Much of this protective effect was seen because tennis players continued to play the sport well into middle age," says Dr. Michael J. Klag, a professor of internal medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Unlike tennis players, those who played team sports such as basketball and football were far less likely to continue playing those sports.

When the researchers questioned the men (at an average age of 48) about their activity years after graduation, 68% of them said they worked up a sweat in some way at least once a week.

The tennis players, though, were most likely to still be playing their sport. About a third of the good tennis players had played within the past week of the survey, and half had played within the last year. Few, if any, of the team sport players were still at it.

Good golfers, in contrast with those who played team sports, were a little more likely to be active in their sport. About 20% of them were still playing in middle age.

However, golf doesn't have the same aerobic benefit as tennis, and it was not associated with a lower risk of heart disease, as the men grew older.

More than other popular sports, tennis seems to deliver a double advantage: a good aerobic workout that is likely to be sustained in middle age.

Dianne Lange can be reached by e-mail at