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Swimming, aerobics, and racquet sports are linked to lowest risk of cardiovascular death

BMJ 2016; 355 doi: (Published 30 November 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;355:i6435
  1. Jacqui Wise
  1. London

Swimming, racquet sports, and aerobics seem to be the best forms of exercise for reducing the risk of death from heart disease and stroke, research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine has found.1

The researchers analysed data from the Health Survey for England and the Scottish Health survey from 1994 to 2008. The cohort included 80 306 adults with an average age of 52, of whom 54% were women. Overall, 44% of the participants met the national guidelines on physical activity. The participants were asked about their physical activity in the previous four weeks including housework, gardening, walking, and six types of sport and exercise. They were also asked how often they did a particular activity and the perceived intensity.

Over an average follow-up of 9.2 years the researchers found 8790 deaths from any cause. Among the 75 014 participants who did not report any diagnosed cardiovascular disease at the start of the study, 1909 cardiovascular deaths occurred.

The study found that, after accounting for confounding factors, those respondents who had played racquet sports had a risk of death from any cause that was 47% lower than those who did not play racquet sports (hazard ratio 0.53 (95% confidence interval 0.40 to 0.69)). Swimming was associated with a significantly reduced risk of all cause mortality by 28% (0.72 (0.65 to 0.80)), aerobics was associated with a reduction of 27% (0.73 (0.63 to 0.85)), and cycling was associated with a reduction of 15% (0.85 (0.76 to 0.95)). No significant association was found with running, football, or rugby.

The study also found a significant reduction in cardiovascular mortality among those participating in swimming (0.59 (0.46 to 0.75)), racquet sports (0.44 (0.24 to 0.83)), and aerobics (0.64 (0.45 to 0.92)), but no significant associations were seen with cycling, football, rugby, or running.

The researchers did find a 43% reduced risk of death from all causes and a 45% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease among runners and joggers when compared with those who did not run or jog, but this difference disappeared when all potential confounding factors were accounted for. Very few of the study population said that they played football or rugby (0.3% of women and 6.4% of men), which may explain the small impact of these activities on the risk of death.

The researchers said that the small number of events impaired the statistical power in some analyses. There were relatively few deaths from all causes among runners and football players, which may explain the wide confidence intervals.

However, they concluded, “These findings demonstrate that participation in specific sports may have significant benefits for public health.”


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