All types of sport are (not) equally “healthy”

Again, it’s time for New Year’s resolutions: less fatty and sweet food, less stress, taking care of yourself and, most importantly, more sports! Today, most people have office jobs and therefore a sitting occupation in front of a screen and long periods of sitting in cars, planes or trains. Nevertheless, if we decide to vanquish the inner temptation, then we would prefer a type of sport that gets us slim and “healthy”.

Put simply, healthy is everything that reduces the all-cause mortality risk in medicine. The all-cause mortality risk can be subdivided in different mortality risks; however, if it comes to sport exercises, the most important sub-dimension is the cardiovascular disease (CVD). But is sport really “healthy”? And, are there particular differences in the specific type of sport?

In order to find answers, we want to examine whether sitting occupations are, in fact, associated with all-cause mortality and CVD. Is sitting the new smoking? In a cohort study on a sample of more than 5,300 women and 5,700 men in England and Scotland, researchers have compared people in sitting, standing and walking occupations in association with their mortality risk. Controlling for third variables such as, age, smoking, waist circumference, frequency of alcohol intake, psychological health, and prevalent diseases at baseline, in general, the results show that sitting occupations are associated with higher risks of all-cause mortality and CVD in comparison to standing and walking occupations (Stamatakis et al., 2013). It’s no use moaning: Taking exercises on a regular basis is not only reasonable, but also “healthy”.

However, if we get off the office chair to do sport exercises, we would like to know which type of sport is the “healthiest”. In a large pooled Scottish and English population-based cohort study of more than 80,000 adults, researchers have examined the association between specific type of sports and the all-cause mortality and CVD (Oja et al., 2016). Controlling for third variables (as mentioned above), only swimming, racquet sports (badminton, tennis, squash), and especially aerobics (aerobics, keep fit, dance for fitness) reduce the all-cause mortality and CVD. In contrast, football/rugby, cycling, and running/jogging showed no effect on both kinds of mortality risks. Especially the non-significant result for running/jogging is surprising, given that this type of sport is especially attractive to people who do not exercise regularly. The researchers explain this non-significant finding with the relatively low number of mortality events in this exposure group, which might partially support the benefits of running/jogging (Oja et al., 2016).

Nevertheless, before one tries to keep his/her New Year’s resolutions and buys a season ticket for gyms, indoor swimming pools, and tennis courts, we would like to point out that recent meta-analytical findings based on more than 460,000 individuals show that walking, in fact, reduces the all-cause mortality. Moreover, walking pace seems to be a stronger a predictor than walking volume (time or distance) (Hamer & Chida, 2008). Especially, high-intensive interval training reduces the all-cause mortality risk (Gebel et al., 2015). Thus, for those who have only limited time to do sports, high-intensive interval training seems to be a less time-consuming and “healthy” alternative.

Of course, all types of sport exercises are reasonable after bank holidays and a long day of sitting in the office. As long as we enjoy the sport, we chose. At the end of the day, it’s the fun factor that will let you keep your New Year’s resolutions. However, statistics cannot tell us which type of sport is associated with the greatest fun. This is what we need to find out ourselves.