Why finding a sports buddy can help you live healthier – and longer

We do love a survey here at Sportside, and particularly ones that extol the virtues of playing sport. And especially those that support our theory that playing sport with other people is very good for your health!

This week a study was published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, one of the premier peer-reviewed clinical journals in general and internal medicine, that looked at life expectancy levels associated with playing various sports.

Over 8,500 people were studied by the US journal, and then followed for up to 25 years to monitor causes of death.

The study noted: “Multivariable-adjusted life expectancy gains compared with the sedentary group for different sports were as follows: 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; and health club activities, 1.5 years.

“Interestingly, the leisure-time sports that inherently involve more social interaction were associated with the best longevity – a finding that warrants further investigation,” it added.

The implication is clear – that social interaction that occurs through playing with or against a partner or in team sports, in addition to the exercise gained, adds more years to your life than just doing exercise on your own. 

Tennis, badminton and football all appeared to be better for longevity than cycling, swimming, jogging or gym exercise, according to the research.

“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,” said the co-author of the study Dr James O’Keefe, a cardiologist at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute.

He added: “If you’re interested in exercising for health and longevity and well-being, perhaps the most important feature of your exercise regimen is that it should involve a playdate.”

This is not to denigrate the option of going for a solo run, walk or cycle – but more to encourage the behaviours that go along with being part of a team or playing with someone else. A running or cycling partner can also give you the push you need to achieve your goals.

Another report that grabbed our interest this week was from the Children’s Food Campaign and Food Active, who called out Britain’s incredible ‘summer of sport’ for being sponsored and supported by so much junk food advertising. 

The report said that a “constant barrage” of unhealthy food and drink sponsorship deals is undermining UK sport’s mission to encourage the nation to live more healthily.

Researchers monitored brands that advertised around Euro 2000, the new Hundred tournament in cricket, the Olympic and Paralympic Games as well as domestic football competitions, and discovered that fizzy drinks, chocolate and fast food restaurants dominated.

Now the two campaign groups are urging the Government to change advertising and marketing rules for food and drink companies. They are also asking sports bodies to turn down sponsorships with food and drink brands that are not healthy.

Barbara Crowther, co-ordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign, said: “Children should be free to play or watch sport without being deluged with advertising for crisps, chocolate, pizzas and burgers.

“It’s clear that voluntary agreements with the food and drink industry about responsible partnerships with sport are utterly failing, and perhaps it’s time for the Government to step onto the field and show junk food advertising in sport the red card.”

And Beth Bradshaw of Food Active, a programme run by the Health Equalities Group, added: “Parents are acutely aware of the impact that these marketing tactics are having on children’s food preferences and brand awareness, and the difficulties they present especially in light of the difficulties some already face in feeding their children well.

“What was clear from the parents we spoke to is they are sympathetic to the need for funding sport and physical activity at grassroots and junior levels but believe that current dependency on less healthy food and drink advertising for these revenues is unacceptable – and we wholeheartedly agree.”

Caroline Cerny, from the Obesity Health Alliance, a coalition of 50 health organisations, said: “Sports sponsorship is a highly effective way for food companies to ensure their unhealthy products are centre stage in children’s minds.

“As the Government brings in tough new rules to protect children from junk food adverts on TV and online, we are concerned that much of this marketing will now flood into sports sponsorship, undermining the positive message about physical activity that sport gives children.”

British Dental Association chairman Eddie Crouch said: “The junk food industry’s fingerprints are found in every corner of professional sport.

“Our children’s sporting heroes have free rein to flog products that would never get past their team nutritionists. Until ministers show they are willing to step up and draw a line, health professionals will keep counting the cost in rotten teeth and expanding waistlines.”

An Advertising Association spokeswoman said: “We agree that the promotion of sport, and its participation, is critical in encouraging children to lead an active and healthy lifestyle. Funding from advertising plays a crucial role in the sustainability and exposure of sport as something for everyone to enjoy and take part in.

“There are clear regulations in place regarding the promotion of HFSS food and drink around sports content, which is also enjoyed by adults as well as children, and the evidence shows these are already effective.

“However, the extensive restrictions on advertising coming through in 2023 will have minimal impact, removing just 40 calories – equivalent to an apple – per year to the average child’s diet. Further restrictions as suggested in this report could result in even less funding to promote sport and active lifestyles for no proven gain.”

However a spokeswoman for McDonald’s UK responded: “We are the longest-standing supporter of grassroots football in the UK with a 19-year partnership with the UK football associations.

“With cost such a barrier to participation in physical activity for so many families, we are incredibly proud that in the last three years alone we have given hundreds of thousands of children the chance to play football for free – delivering over five million hours of free football across the UK.

“We do not use our grassroots football programme to promote our food or menu. Our programme focuses solely on providing fun, free football to local communities.”



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