Why team sports can help you live longer

It pays to play well with others: A new study shows that people who participated in team activities had a health advantage over people who exercised alone.

King County, WA, Flickr

We know that moving around, even basic movement, such as walking around for an hour a week, can make your brain and heart happier. But if you master the art of working out alone and want to level up, consider exercising with a partner. A new study in Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that people who do team sports had one particular health advantage over people who exercised solo — they lived longer.

Team sports give us a longevity advantage

Using data of 8,500 white adults with no prior history of heart disease, the researchers looked into how a primary sport could change the course of your life, finding a clear link between team sports and longevity: “leisure-time sports that inherently involve more social interaction were associated with the best longevity.”

Tennis, badminton, and soccer — team sports that require participation and camaraderie between people for success — ranked above physical sports you could do on your own like calisthenics and jogging. How long you played the sport mattered less than what you did when it came to longevity.

Here were the years of life expectancy added, depending on what sport you played:

  • Tennis: 9.7 years
  • Badminton: 6.2 years
  • Soccer: 4.7 years
  • Cycling: 3.7 years
  • Swimming: 3.4 years
  • Jogging: 3.2 years
  • Calisthenics: 3.1 years
  • Health club activities: 1.5 years

Doing any sort of exercise is better than doing no exercise, but this finding suggests that if you want to get the maximum benefits of your weekly gym habit, make it a team activity. “For both mental and physical well-being and longevity, we’re understanding that our social connections are probably the single most important feature of living a long, healthy, happy life,” study co-author James O’Keefe, told TIME.

One recent study of 1.2 million Americans found that team sports had the biggest mental health benefits, reducing participants’ mental health burden by 22.3%.

Having a workout buddy not only holds you accountable for going to your weekly soccer game, but the friendships and rivalries are having unseen positive effects on your body. The connections being made are building up your mental and physical reserves in your body for the long haul of life.

Monica Torres|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at mtorres@theladders.com.