The question

Participation in sports has been shown to help the heart and to have other benefits. Are some sports better than others?

This study

The researchers analyzed health and physical activity data on 80,306 adults (average age 52), including the frequency and intensity of their participation in various sports. In a span of about nine years, 8,790 people died, including 1,909 from cardiovascular disease. People who regularly swam, played racket sports (tennis, squash or badminton) or did aerobics (including dancing) were less likely to die for any reason, but especially from cardiovascular disease, than were people who did not participate in those sports. The reduced risk for cardiovascular death was 36 percent for aerobics, 41 percent for swimming and 56 percent for racket sports. Cycling and running did not reduce the odds of cardiovascular death.

Who may be affected

Adults. Being physically active helps protect people from numerous chronic conditions, including heart disease, the No. 1 cause of death in the United States. Guidelines for adults suggest at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (or 75 minutes of vigorous activity) ideally spread throughout the week, along with muscle-strengthening exercise at least two days a week. Less than half of American adults meet the aerobic activity guideline, and just 20 percent meet the muscle-strengthening guideline.


Data on sports participation came from the participants’ responses on questionnaires. The researchers noted that the analysis focused solely on mortality and did not take into account social and mental health benefits and potential reduction in disease incidence from participation in sports, including those that were not found to reduce cardiovascular death.

Find this study

Online in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (bjsm.bmj.com; click “Online First”)

Learn more

Information on physical activity guidelines is available at health.gov. Learn more about cardiovascular disease at heart.org.

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals.