It is well known that sport keeps us fit and healthy, but what is less understood is how many health benefits are gained through playing tennis. Researchers investigate these questions, which provides both professional and recreational tennis players with an understanding of what happens to their mind and body during tennis participation.

Tennis has a wide range of benefits to mental and physical health.

Tennis is a unique sport; it provides both aerobic (endurance) and anaerobic (fast explosive movements) training. The average point in tennis includes bursts of activity and acts to condition our bodies the same way interval training would do. This has a profoundly positive effect on our heart and lungs with studies showing that playing just 3 hours a week reduces the risk of heart disease by over 50%. Furthermore, playing tennis can reduce the rate of decline of our fitness as we get older. In a study looking at 8 different sports it was identified that tennis players had the longest life expectancy, by about 10 years! Tennis is a sport for all ages, genders, sizes and expertise levels, with benefits including maintaining healthy body composition, bone health, muscle strength and balance.

“Sport is a preserver of health.”
Hippocrates (Greek Physician)

Playing tennis on a regular basis leads to stronger, healthier bones. This effect is largest in those who play tennis from an early age, but those who start playing tennis later in life can also benefit. Over two dozen studies have analyzed bone health in tennis players at all different levels with most showing that bone density and strength increase as a result of tennis participation. This is most noticeable in the spine and hips and the dominant arm of the tennis player. Deterioration in bone health in women is a major medical concern, with conditions such as osteoporosis causing debilitating fractures, including stress fractures in athletic women; it is reassuring to know that most players on the WTA tour will maintain healthy bones throughout their lives. The movement patterns required for tennis such as pushing off, lunging, jumping, combined with the start/stop nature of the game, develops muscular strength and endurance in legs and core, and an ability to resist fatigue. These affects combined help older generations of tennis players maintain their mobility and stability, and subsequently, their independence. For more information on protecting your bone health, read Physically Speaking Topic “Old Bones in Young Women”.

There is a wealth of evidence to suggest that immunity is enhanced through exercise. Moderate exercise improves the immune system by increasing the number and strength of immune system cells, as well as, increasing immune system efficiency. As tennis is both physically and mentally demanding, reason would suggest that it is one of the best sporting activities to give our immunity a boost. Tennis players are also more likely to adopt healthier lifestyle patterns, such as eating nutritious foods, implementing proper hydration practices, prioritizing rest/recovery, and sleeping a minimum of 8 hours, which help to prevent illness. It is important to balance these positive benefits our sport gives us with the over demands of the tour such as scheduling and travel. For more information, read Physically Speaking topics Don’t Bug Me, Improve Your Immune System, Schedule for Success, Sleep Easy and Recovery.

Tennis leads to better hand-eye coordination because of the requirement to constantly judge the timing between the oncoming ball and the correct contact point. This combined with the frequent changes of direction and fast responsiveness to a moving target (the ball), tennis players generally will demonstrate improved agility, good balance, and body awareness (proprioception) which helps prevent accidents and falls throughout life.

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From alertness to tactical thinking, tennis enhances the ability for rapid and clever thinking and creative problem solving. Tennis players possess enhanced abilities in motion detection, speed awareness, processing and timing. Tennis also gets the senses fired up with faster eye tracking, hearing and touch perception. It is also shown that tennis enables our brains to remodel, building new neural (nerve) connections and pathways to create these positive effects. These new connections develop and adapt throughout the lifetime; studies show that children who play tennis regularly do better academically and socially than their non-playing peers. These cognitive benefits persist into adulthood.

Tennis also dramatically improves the ability to concentrate, which assists with the completion of tasks that require problem solving skills, revealing the ability to persevere with high-level cognitive tasks. Activities requiring an increased level of focus for a prolonged duration can include school or university studies, learning another language, budgeting and logistical activities, such as those related to travel and schedules.

“Write your injuries in dust, your benefits in marble.”
Benjamin Franklin (USA Founding Father)

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Although life of tour has its own challenges, tennis can vastly reduce stress levels. In the Survey Report of the WTA Player Development Advisory Panel’s 20-Year View of the WTA’s Age Eligibility Rule and Player Development Programs, WTA players reported low to moderate stress and high degrees of happiness with tennis. Tennis involves physical, mental, social, and emotional challenges. This increases a person’s capacity to deal with perceived and actual stress and challenges and improves the emotional characteristics which foster resilience and wellness. For additional information, please reference the topic, Mental Fitness.

Young players who participate in tennis develop greater sense of wellbeing and self-worth and are more optimistic in their outlook about themselves and life in general compared with their non-playing peers. Read Physically Speaking topics, Feel Good, Play Great and Precious Gifts.

Perhaps the biggest health benefit that tennis gives us is its ‘life lessons’. Players are continuously tested in how they react to situations and deal with adversity whilst developing a competitive and a winning mentality. A study that compared behavior patterns of adolescent tennis players with those who do not participate in sport, demonstrated that the tennis players develop more autonomy, assertiveness, personality and an ability to persevere to reach their goals. At the same time, they showed fewer behavioral traits such as neuroticism, fear, and obsession, which may negatively impact daily functioning and interfere with healthy personality development. When the younger generation of players are able to be challenged by the game and they are provided with proven and valid support mechanisms, and strategies and opportunities to learn coping skills we will raise their ability to be mentally robust and able to deal with pressures and situations on and off the court.

The contents of the Health site are for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, psychiatric, psychological, health care or health management advice. The materials herein are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this site. Reliance on any information provided herein is solely at your own risk.

A special thanks to the authors,
Prof Babette Pluim and Dr. Ajai Seth