People often ask me how I stay so fit. I can’t say I’m a devoted gym member, nor have I ever been a serious jogger. And my fitness has never been the result of any disciplined effort. My answer to this question? I like to play.
Playing, for me, often takes place on the tennis court. Though people who play tennis don’t need to be convinced that it’s a fun sport, some may be surprised to learn that it’s also a good way to get aerobic exercise, strengthen bones and muscles, and score a trimmer waistline.
Deuce: bones and muscles
As a weight-bearing exercise, tennis is an excellent way to maintain good bone health and strengthen muscles. Playing tennis also promotes mobility and agility while also improving balance. And because tennis can be played for a lifetime, these benefits are also lifelong.
In a meta-analysis of 22 studies examining the effect of tennis on bone health, researchers concluded that long-term tennis play leads to increased bone mineral density and bone mineral content of the playing arm, lumbar spine, and legs.
Advantage: healthy heart
Exercise physiologist and avid tennis player, Gordon Blackburn, PhD, of the Cleveland Clinic’s Heart and Vascular Institute, points to tennis, played at a moderate to vigorous intensity on a regular basis, as an ideal sport for a healthy heart.
Not only are the physical components of the game good for your heart, but along with the social aspects of the game, tennis provides an excellent form of stress release which can also help lower blood pressure. All of this helps to reduce the risk of developing heart disease.
As for the waistline, consider that a 135 lb (61 kg) woman who plays an hour of doubles tennis can burn 330 calories (420 calories for an hour of singles), while a 175 lb (79.5 kg) man playing an hour of doubles tennis can burn about 425 calories and 600 calories
Add up the score; playing tennis is not only fun, it’s also a great way to stay fit, trim, and healthy. In other words, game, set, and match!
Tennis lovers can get their fix of the game even when the weather’s nasty. Nintendo’s Wii Sports package includes a tennis game for up to four people. Though it doesn’t quite live up to the action on a real court, it’s a great alternative to no tennis at all, and it’s also a fun way to entice newbies to the game.
For more of a challenge and some interesting competition, 2K Sports’ Top Spin 3 for Wii lets you resurrect Justine Henin from retirement for a gruelling match at the US Open or face off against Andy Roddick’s powerful serve. Late-night television host Conan O’Brien found some common ground on a Wii tennis court with American tennis champion, Serena Williams.
The great thing about tennis is that it requires so little equipment. All you need is a decent racquet, some good shoes, and a set of balls (or multiple sets for beginners who don’t want to spend all their time chasing them).
Though you can buy shoes specifically designed for playing tennis, if you’re just starting out a good pair of cross-trainers will work just as well. Whatever shoes you choose, there are some important attributes they should provide:
- Lateral support for side to side
- Movements on the court
- Cushioning and shock absorption
- For pounding on hard court surfaces
- Flexibility for quick stops, starts, and turns
Most tennis balls are pressurized, giving them bounce and speed; however, the felt that covers them may differ. Extra-duty felt helps to keep the ball on the racquet longer, providing more control for beginner players.
Pressurized balls lose their bounce after use, so do the bounce test before you play: drop the ball from the top of your forehead, and if it bounces at least to your belly button, it should be good to use.
Choosing a tennis racquet can seem overwhelming; there are so many options to choose from. Here are some basic guidelines:
- Weight: Choose a racquet light enough to swing comfortably, but not so light that your arm and wrist absorb the shock when ball hits racquet which can lead to joint pain and tennis elbow.
- Balance: Look for balance by measuring the racquet’s total length. Balance the racquet on your finger at the racquet’s midpoint. More weight in the head provides more power and spin, but requires more control; while less weight in the head provides more control, but sacrifices power.
- Grip size: Measure with your hand open and fingers extended close together. Align a ruler with the middle crease (of three main creases) of your palm and up the line between middle and ring finger; measure to the tip of your ring finger. For most women, grip measurement will be from 4 1/8 to 4 3/8 inches; for men from 4 3/8 to 4 5/8 inches.