How to Play Your Way to a Long Life: Striving to Live a Healthier Life

By Emma Haggerty

reviewed by kareem mahmoud

Have you ever wondered how you’ll feel in 10, 20, or even 50 years’ time? Longevity is something we think about all the time without even realizing it. We all strive to live a longer, healthier life, but we don’t always think of our long-term health. Nonetheless, it’s important to improve our holistic health for the future, so we can feel good as we age. 

So, what are the ingredients for longevity? Many of us already know that eating healthy foods, getting enough exercise, and limiting sedentary habits can help (we’re looking at you, Netflix and Hulu). But what exactly does research tell us about living longer? 

Apparently, we need to go backward. That’s right — playing like a kid may be the key to longevity. There are two critical components here: socializing and sport. The reason? Social activities, like playing basketball with friends, not only get us moving but socializing, too — and this makes us happier. And this combination could help us live a longer life.

How can socializing help us live longer?

Socializing is essential for our holistic health, including our physical health. Social isolation is associated with increased risk of inflammation, poor functioning of the immune system, chronic diseases, and cancers. Positive social interaction, on the other hand, has been shown to increase the function of the cardiovascular, endocrine, and immune systems. It seems that social support can make us stronger both mentally and physically.

Social isolation is strongly linked with premature death. This study found that isolation from others is associated with mortality among both males and females. Lack of social contact is also linked to higher rates of cancer among female participants in another study. It’s important to reach out to others for our health and our happiness.

A study from the University of Vienna found that membership in a sports club promotes positive growth in young teens, and fosters vitality for better overall wellbeing. What’s more is that the fun of socializing with your peers can encourage you to keep going back for more, which means more physical activity and socialization — a super beneficial cycle for longevity. 

And if you think the benefits are only for teens, think again. Research shows us that we can reap the rewards of movement at any age, so go ahead and ask your friends to walk with you, join a tennis club together, or even start a sports team. Another positive effect? Preventing dementia. Thinking on your feet and actively socializing can strengthen your cognitive abilities. Plus all of that serotonin from moving around will boost your mood, so you’ll feel great too — and improving our wellbeing is worth a little sweat at any age.  

 

How can sports impact longevity?

Research has long touted the benefits of regular physical activity. A good exercise routine can certainly promote longevity, but it seems that some sports may be more advantageous than others. 

A study conducted on around 8,500 Danish adults found interesting results on the life expectancy for participants of different sports:

  • Tennis: +9.7 years
  • Badminton: +6.2 years
  • Soccer: +4.7 years
  • Cycling: +3.7 years
  • Swimming: +3.2 years
  • Calisthenics: +3.1 years
  • Health club activities: +1.5 years

 

The researchers also confirmed that those who didn’t exercise were more likely to die during the course of the study than those who were physically active. While further research is needed to understand the connection between particular types of sport and life expectancy, team sports may promote longevity more than solo sports. 

A similar study on a sample of the Scottish and English population took a look at six sports — running, racket sports (like badminton and tennis), swimming, cycling, aerobics, soccer — and associated mortality rates. They found that there was a diminished risk of death due to all causes, including cardiovascular disease, with activities like racket sports, swimming, and aerobics. 

But there were limitations. For example, running and football didn’t have any impact on mortality at all. And cycling didn’t reduce the risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease in this study, even though other studies have shown the opposite. A different study looking into mortality among commuters found that commuting to work by bicycle reduced rates of mortality due to cardiovascular disease by 24%. 

What does this mean? There’s not enough research to identify the solution to longevity, nor an optimal sport to ensure you live until 100. But there’s a way to live (holistically!) that can improve your chances. So, take these studies with a grain of salt — all signs say physical activity is already wonderful for your health. Your daily run is still worth it! But bringing a friend along could reap more rewards for your long-term health.

 

How can ‘playing like kids’ increase longevity?

Doing things that bring joy is always a good idea — but it’s a healthy one, too. Another study looking into the benefits of enjoyable activities found that participation in enjoyable activities is associated with a positive mental state and lower levels of depression, as well as lower blood pressure, body mass index (BMI), and cortisol (your stress hormone). Yes, that means having free time and making the most of it is necessary for your health!

Think of what you did when you were young — did you play a team sport like basketball, join a game of frisbee in the middle of the street with the neighborhood kids, or have a blast playing volleyball at the beach with your siblings? We don’t have to give up those activities as we get older — in fact, we should continue to set aside time for play, even as adults. Those moments where we’re moving and socializing are some of our happiest, too.

What are some ways you can improve your longevity through movement?

  • Join a local sports team: Social sports like soccer, tennis, or badminton are shown to have the greatest benefits — physical and social — for longevity. It could be a great idea to try joining a golf club or local basketball team. Ask a friend to do it with you or get your kids involved. 
  • Combine cardio and strength training: While many have looked into the benefits of aerobic exercises versus resistance exercise, our suggestion is to combine the two. One study found that those who combine cardio and strength training experience lower levels of depression. This study found that aerobic training is best for weight loss, while another found that resistance training curbs muscle loss and aging, at least partially.
  • Ask a friend to walk (or run) with you: Not only is it a great way to get some fresh air, walking just feels good. And it’s great for you — walking can prevent heart failure. Having a walkable neighborhood is a privilege, so if you have a nice neighborhood then take advantage, and maybe even say “hi” to your neighbors!
  • Start a club: If your community is lacking in resources, then start your own sports club. Getting the neighborhood together for a “block party” could be a great way to meet the people next door. Social isolation is bad for your physical and social health. Don’t be a stranger to your local area. 
  • Stop planning: Life isn’t always predictable. But what we can’t predict, we can usually prevent. Do your best to be active, and try to invite friends and family to join you in doing your favorite activities — you’ll be helping them out, too.
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By choosing to carve out time in your day to socialize and get active, you’ll be making strides for your health. But the most important thing is to do things you love. If you get intimidated by large groups, don’t force yourself to join right away. Work up to being more social, and continue to enjoy your favorite physical activities — but every once in a while, try to invite a friend. 

Emma Haggerty
I’m an experienced content writer with a passion for reading, writing, and traveling. I have a background in linguistics, literature, creative writing, and anthropology.  My travels have taken me to many amazing places and brought me the best of friends, but along the way, I’ve also learned the importance of staying healthy, so I can tackle my goals anywhere I go. I’m excited to bring to you my experience and enthusiasm for a healthy lifestyle.

Kareem Mahmoud

Kareem is a Palestinian medical doctor who is completing a master’s degree in International Health at Heidelberg University. His main interests include digital health and telemedicine. Kareem has traveled to 24 countries and lived in 6 of them. He speaks Arabic, English, and German fluently and has a basic knowledge of French. In his free time, he does CrossFit religiously and occasionally jumps out of airplanes for fun! You should try it – just make sure you have a parachute!

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