Bjorn Borg, the stoic tennis-playing Swede who won five straight Wimbledon and six French Open singles titles, was famous for his calm, cool demeanor on the court. For a time, he was dubbed "Ice Borg." His conditioning was legendary, and so was his resting heart rate, a reported 45 beats per minute.
Whether true or not, the story about Borg's tranquil cardiac tissue underscores an important point about tennis: playing it on a regular basis is good for your heart. It's also good for the body and mind. In fact, playing tennis on a regular basis produces physical, physiologic and psychologic benefits.
These benefits include increased burning of calories, reduction in blood pressure and reduced stress. All of these benefits play a role in reducing a person’s risk of developing heart disease, the number-one killing disease among men and women.
To help you appreciate the health and heart benefits of tennis, to encourage you to get out there and play and to help you play the sport safely, Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute at Cleveland Clinic and the United States Tennis Association have collaborated to bring you this “Get your game on” guide.
Cut Calories, Lower Blood Pressure
Playing tennis on a regular basis can help maintain or improve balance, mobility, agility, strength and fitness. It also helps burn calories. According to the Miller Family Heart & Vascular Institute exercise physiologist and avid tennis player Gordon Blackburn, Ph.D., research shows that three hours of moderate aerobic exercise every week can cut the risk of developing heart disease by 50 percent. "Playing tennis at a moderate to vigorous intensity on a regular basis," says Dr. Blackburn, "is a good way to get your aerobic exercise. You'll exercise your muscles and burn calories. Tennis can even help lower your blood pressure. All of that helps reduce your risk of developing heart disease or of having a cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack or stroke."
A 135-pound woman playing an hour of tennis can burn 330 calories during doubles and 420 calories during singles, says Dr. Blackburn. An average-sized man playing an hour of tennis can burn about 425 calories during doubles and 600 calories during singles. In fact, says Dr. Blackburn, you’ll burn more calories playing three hours of tennis per week than you will doing three hours of light weightlifting, bowling or golfing.
“If you complement the tennis with other aerobic activities such as brisk walking or cycling, so that you are getting some sort of aerobic exercise most days of the week,” says Dr. Blackburn, “you can make an even bigger impact on improving heart health.” For instance, numerous recent studies, says Dr. Blackburn, have documented the physiologic benefits of walking on a regular basis and at a moderate intensity.
Whether you’re a former tennis player ready to take up the sport again, or you’re taking it up for the first time, pre-play stretching is one of the most important precautions you can take to minimize the risk of muscle or limb injury. Stretching prepares the body for physical activity by warming the muscles and joints. The process takes only a few minutes. Stretching does not guarantee that you won’t be injured during play, but the evidence shows that it can help significantly reduce the risk.
For those of you thinking, “Dude, this body don’t bend,” stretching exercises are not designed to contort the limbs, inflict pain or serve as a tryout for Cirque de Soleil. The objective is to ready the muscles and joints for the stretching and extending you’ll do as play begins and progresses.
Learn how to do a proper stretching warm up for tennis
To keep tennis safe and healthy, always keep these tips in mind:
- Get the body’s muscles and joints properly warmed up by stretching
- Use water or healthy sports drinks to keep the body properly hydrated before, during and after play. This is particularly important when playing in hot, humid weather, or for longer than an hour per session.
- If you injure yourself or experience chest pain, stop playing immediately and contact your physician.
- Play within your means. (In other words, leave the acrobatics to Roddick and Henin-Hardenne.)
- Get Your Game On…Safely
Dr. Blackburn encourages anyone who can to take up tennis, but certain individuals, he says, need to check with a physician before doing so. If you are interested in playing tennis, check the list below to see if any of the criteria describe or relate to your health status. If so, you’ll want to discuss your intentions with your doctor.
- Chest discomfort or pain during physical activity
- Current inactive lifestyle, by choice or because of a medical condition
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Heart disease
- Recent surgery (within past year)
- High or low blood pressure
- Regular dizziness or loss of consciousness
- Vision problems
- Joint replacement
- History of chronic joint pain or discomfort that worsens during physical activity
Also, if you are under a physician’s care for any reason, or taking medications to help manage a condition, be sure to discuss with your physician your interest in tennis before heading off to the courts.
Fun…and For All
One of the greatest aspects of tennis is that playing it can be fun. True, it can be challenging, especially if you’re just learning, but it also is a sport in which lessons, practice and persistence pay off quickly. Tennis offers a great diversion from life’s stresses as well as a great opportunity to socialize, particularly if you join a local tennis league or club or frequent public courts. Tennis is invigorating, and, once you get the hang of it, tremendously satisfying. It also makes a great family activity.
Contrary to what you might think, tennis is not a sport played and enjoyed only by the young. In fact, 11.3 million adults aged 25 and up played tennis at least once last year. And as Venus and Serena Williams have so brilliantly reminded everyone, tennis is a sport for women just as much as it is for men.
To learn about tennis opportunities in your hometown, enter your Zip Code or City and State to begin your search for a Tennis Welcome Center now!*
Healthy Heart Precautions
In addition to a medical examination, an exercise test—sometimes called an exercise stress test—is recommended before starting a regular exercise program such as tennis. You should undergo such testing if:
- You have been diagnosed with cardiovascular, pulmonary or metabolic disease (i.e. diabetes)
- Are male, over age 45 and have 2 or more heart disease risk factors*
- Are female, over age 55 and have 2 or more heart disease risk factors.*
*Risk factors for heart diseased include:
- Family history of heart disease or heart attack
- Coronary artery bypass surgery or a coronary interventional procedure (e.g. angioplasty, stent placement) in a first-degree relative (brother, sister, father, mother) before age 55
- Current use of tobacco products, or, quitting smoking within the previous year
- Resting blood pressure greater than 130/85 mm Hg
- Taking medications for high blood pressure
- Total cholesterol higher than 200 mg/dl or LDL cholesterol higher than 130 mg/dl
- Taking cholesterol lowering medications
- Usual fasting blood glucose greater than 110 mg/dl; taking medications to lower blood sugars
- Waist circumference greater than 39 inches or body mass index (BMI), greater than 30.
- Not currently participating in a regular, aerobic exercise program of moderate intensity.
To make an appointment with an exercise specialist or to join a cardiac rehabilitation program, contact the Cleveland Clinic Preventive Cardiology - 216.444.9353 or 800.223.2273 ext. 9353.
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