Playing tennis and other sports that are social might add years to your life, according to a new epidemiological study of Danish men and women. The study found that adults who reported frequently participating in tennis or other racket and team sports lived longer than people who were sedentary. But they also lived longer than people who took part in reliably healthy but often solitary activities such as jogging, swimming and cycling.

The results raise interesting questions about the role that social interactions might play in augmenting the benefits of exercise. At this point, no one doubts that being physically active improves our health and can extend our longevity. Multiple, recent epidemiological studies have pinpointed links between regular exercise and longer lives in men and women.

But whether some activities might be better than others for lengthening life spans remains in dispute. One widely publicized 2017 study of more than 80,000 British men and women found that those who played racket sports tended to outlive those who jogged. 

Those results piqued the interest of an international group of scientists. They previously had examined links between jogging and longevity and concluded that moderate amounts of moderately paced running led to greater gains in longevity than more-gentle or strenuous running.

For the new study, which was published this week in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, these same researchers decided to widen their inquiry and look at a variety of sports and their associations with life and premature death.

To start, they turned to the same data resource they had used for the jogging study, the Copenhagen City Heart Study, an ambitious, ongoing attempt to track the lives and health of thousands of men and women in Copenhagen. 

The study’s participants had all completed health exams and lengthy questionnaires about their lifestyles and whether and how often they took part in eight sports common in Denmark, including cycling, swimming, running, tennis, soccer and, perhaps unexpectedly, badminton.