Millions of people around the world, including nearly 60% of Americans, Australians and Europeans, participate in sports. A 2015 review found the available data on long-term health benefits of specific sport disciplines is limited, but a new study provides strong evidence participation in several common sports is linked with a significantly reduced risk of death.
Insufficient physical activity is estimated to cause more than 5 million premature deaths a year. To reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer and a number of other chronic diseases, the World Health Organisation recommends adults and older people engage in physical activity for at least 150 minutes a week.
These estimates and guidelines are predominantly based on studies about outcomes of participation in any moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity. But does it make a difference which physical activities we do?
In recent years, there has been growing research interest in how specific domains (such as work, transport, domestic and leisure time) and types of physical activity (walking, cycling) affect health.
While, for example, walking and cycling were found to be associated with similar reductions in death risk, physical activity in the domains of leisure time and daily living seem to produce greater benefits than occupational and transport-related physical activities. This shows that, health-wise, it is not necessarily irrelevant which physical activity you do.
Which sports are good for health?
Adults participating in a high overall level of sports and exercise are at 34% lower risk of death than those who never or rarely engage in such activities. This generic evidence, however, does not imply all sports equally affect health.