Newswise — It turns out that the social aspect of exercising may be just as important as its physical benefits. 

Connor Sheehan, an assistant professor at ASU’s T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics, is sharing these findings in a new paper recently published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. Curious to know which, if any, of the more socially oriented exercises, such as team sports, contribute to longevity, Sheehan and family and human development graduate student Longfeng Li found that any exercise is beneficial, but stretching, volleyball and fitness exercises (i.e., walking, aerobics, cycling, etc.) in particular were associated with lower rates of mortality.

In their study, Sheehan and Li used data collected by the National Health Interview Survey of 26,727 American adults ages 18 to 84 to examine the effect of 15 different exercises on mortality rates. The survey participants were asked once in 1998 what type of exercise they engaged in, then followed for all-cause mortality through the end of 2015.

During 17 years of follow-up, 4,955 deaths occurred. After adjusting for such factors as demographics, socioeconomic status and health behaviors, researchers found that walking, aerobics, stretching, weight lifting and stair climbing were related to lower risks of mortality. When adjusting for engagement in all exercise types, stretching and volleyball were found to be uniquely associated with lower risks of mortality.

Their findings suggest that some types of exercise have unique benefits for longevity, but most are indistinguishable in relation to longevity.

“What that means,” Sheehan said, “is that if you're doing any exercise, that's better than if you’re doing nothing. So I think what's best is to just keep doing what you can consistently do, what you consistently enjoy doing. I wouldn't go out of your way to adjust your lifestyle to the results of this study, because it might be harder for you to stretch than to play volleyball, for instance.”

One exercise they found to have a negative effect on longevity was baseball, which they presume is due to the culture of chewing tobacco associated with the sport. And surprisingly, in spite of its association with the neurodegenerative disease chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), they did not find that football was associated with increased mortality.

In addition, Sheehan and Li found that the benefits of exercise did not vary across different types of social groups, meaning any type of exercise is good for everyone.

Sheehan, who has conducted research on sleep in the past, is interested in expanding on these most recent findings to see how different types of exercise affect sleep quality.

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CITATIONS

Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, June 2020