Ask LH: What Sport Is Best For My Overall Health?

Ask LH: What Sport Is Best For My Overall Health?

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

Dear adamskee,

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?


Have a question you want to put to Ask Lifehacker? Send it using our [contact text=”contact form”].


  • Brazilian Jiujitsu is good for strength and cardio. Plus it’s fun (but admittedly I’m a little biased).

  • I am deeply offended by the comments on squash 🙂 In terms of intensity, squash is no doubt on the top of the list as Forbes correctly noted. Squash sessions are equivalent of burst of sprints with seconds rest to change serves. It is far more intensive than tennis or soccer. Elite squash matches only last for about two hours or so and the athletes are usually near collapse. Elite tennis matches can drag on for hours which are still affordable by the athletes. This just shows the difference in intensity. In fact, it is such an cardiovascular demanding sports. There are warning about older or less active people taking up the sport.

  • My initial response would be swimming. It’s low-impact and uses most muscles in the body when doing proper laps. You can even mix it up with some aqua-aerobics if you wanted to or just have a bit of fun splashing around between laps.

  • im surprised adult gymnastics didnt get a mention. im 30 IT worker that spends hours on my ass at work and at home and i only started a year and a half ago. im more flexible, my core is stronger which has alleviated my 15 year ongoing lower back pain (also fixed due to stretching a lot), my hand eye coordination and balance are better, my muscle tone is better, my cardio is better.
    my mate who is the same age has been doing it a year longer than me, admittedly he trains a lot more hours than i do, but hes the fittest he’s ever been and he used to be a qualified PT and play soccer.
    as a bonus, i also used to have a lot of problems with rolling both my ankles, this has also gone away.
    and now that im fitter i also have branched out to other things like running and cycling and swimming.

    give it a try if you like a challenge and like to push yourself and want to learn new skills.

  • You have to consider what’s best for your body and what existing injuries you have or what you may be prone to. If you’ve got dodgy knees and/or ankles, you might want to stay away from soccer and netball or invest more time and effort into strapping, supporting your joints. If you have breathing issues, you have to consider how you will manage with swimming and being underwater. Not saying that it’s a show stopper, just saying that if you put some time and effort in to it, you can make sure that you don’t injure yourself and end up having to take time off of exercise and/or being frustrated that you can’t keep up with the rest of the team because of your dodgy knees.

  • What about basketball? can be played all year round as well as not really needing a team to play with just you and a friend/co worker/family member. Gives you pretty much everything you need and probably more.

    Don’t just ignore it because you may not be tall most social teams don’t have 6’8″ giants playing for them. If you are lucky enough to be tall then there is not more relaxing than dunking a ball through a hoop quite brutally :P.

  • How about thinking further outside the box. If you’re happy to cop some abuse, how about refereeing/ umpiring one of the sports mentioned. Unlike a player who can hide when they want a break, you always need to be at the right spot to make the right decision. A great way to be part of a game without the increased injury concerns.

Show more comments

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!