As a child, I remember visiting the real tennis courts at Hampton Court Palace and marvelling at the complexity of the indoor game played on by Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey. Modern tennis is a great game requiring physical agility and mental skill to outwit your opponent and new research from the University of Oxford has also revealed it’s an excellent way to reduce deaths from any cause by up to 50%.
The implication is that to live longer, getting involved with a sport, any sport, whether it’s tennis, ping-pong, fencing or aerobics is the way to go. I was especially happy to read that swimming was high up on the list as that is one of my favourite physical activities.
If you’re a regular tennis player you may be allowed to feel a little smug. For the rest of us with dodgy knees, poor visual-spatial skills, or who simply hate the game, remember what counts is getting enough exercise over the course of a week for best physical, mental and cognitive health.
The Oxford study reported that only 44% of the participants were meeting the UK guidelines of 150 minutes of moderate exercise. Oops, though similar findings have been reported in Australia and the US. We like to think we are reasonably active but the truth is we often don’t do as much as we like to tell ourselves we do.
But it’s not just the Wimbledon style of tennis that is good for brains. Ping-pong or table tennis is an excellent brain sport. Investing in a table tennis table whether for the kids or for the whole family is great brain cross-training. Not only is the need to bend, swing, reach and dance lightly on your toes great for increasing your aerobic fitness, watching and tracking the ball, planning and executing your shots and giving yourself a virtual high five every time you score a point is an excellent workout for brain function.
Of course, the best exercise you do is always the exercise you do, so choose which physical activity you want to have a go at and then join a club, sign up for some lessons and make it happen.
How well we think, learn and remember matters at any age, whether to increase academic performance at school, boost mental performance at work or to maintain cognition as we mature and exercise helps us to achieve that.
That’s why making the conscious choice to boost brain fitness by staying active and moving more makes sense to help you always perform at your best in life and work, even if your name isn’t Andy Murray.