Dear Lifehacker, As someone who sits in front of a computer for 50+ hours a week, I've been wanting to start some kind of regular physical activity to keep myself healthy. I'm just not sure what to sign up for that would be best for my general health. What popular sports are best for my overall health and fitness? Thanks, adamskee
Soccer image via Shutterstock
Increasing your level of physical activity, even at low levels, has been proven to extend life expectancy by as much as 4.5 years. This is achievable with 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity a week, or just 1.25 hours at vigorous intensity — either of which would easily be covered by a couple of training sessions and a game. All sports that force you to go out and engage in physical activity on a regular basis are going to benefit your health in the long term, it's just a question of what sports are most suited to you.
In choosing a sport to take up, you have to pick something that you will enjoy and that will motivate you to be more active — there's no use starting an activity that you don't want to do, after all. Consider your style of exercise — do you want a team sport with a heavy social aspect and lots of people to support and encourage you? Would you prefer to go it alone and focus on personal goals? Or are you competitive enough that a one-on-one style sport would motivate you the most? Are you looking for a cardio-heavy sport to help you lose weight, or would you rather something strength-based to build muscle?
If you're looking for a team sport, keep an eye out for teams that may be looking for players in your area, or a club that your friends might join with you with you. Soccer is an Aussie favourite along with netball, and both are great for your cardiovascular health thanks to the mobility needed around the field or court in an average game. Full-contact sports like AFL and NRL offer similar cardio activity, but can be more hazardous for your health thanks to the risk of physical injury and even brain damage.
For more competitive types who prefer not to have to rely on a team, singles tennis may appeal. Tennis has the advantage of not being seasonal like soccer and netball, meaning you can train and compete year-round without having to find an alternative form of exercise in the off-season. Martial arts are also highly recommended for the competitive sportsperson, especially if you like a challenge — training in martial arts can also make for a great bragging point among friends. There's a discipline for everyone, from those that focus on form and technique to ones that are heavily sparring-based.
If traditional sports have little appeal to you, why not think outside the box? Pole dancing for fitness is becoming increasingly popular for both men and women, along with dance classes like hip-hop or salsa. If you can't get enough of the outdoors, try getting out for a hike on a regular basis, or even taking up an adventure sport like kayaking or even rock climbing.
Some people can be worried about the risk of injury from some high-impact sports — and rightly so — but there are a number options for those who are a little more worries about sustaining injuries. Swimming is one of the most low-impact sports you can do while still maintaining a high level of physical activity, so long as you have easy enough access to a (preferably heated) pool. Cycling is an alternative to running that is much gentler on your body and your joints, as you aren't constantly impacting the ground with each step.
Exercise, and by extension sport, is a highly personal thing, and each person's ideal activity is going to be unique to them. If you want a more definitive answer, however, an article by Forbes which consulted trainers, athletes, coaches and exercise physiologists rated squash as the number one sport for overall health. Who would have thought?
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