Exercise is the single most powerful tool you have to optimize your brain function.
That is according to John Ratey, MD, an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and an internationally recognized expert in Neuropsychiatry.
In Ratey’s bestselling book Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, he details the scientifically-proven health benefits of exercise, including:
- Improves learning ability and grows brain cells
- Reduces stress, anger, anxiety, and depression
- Increases focus, attention, and alertness
- Reduces risk of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and other forms of Dementia
- Lowers blood pressure
And that’s just to name a few.
Any exercise is better than none, but to see these results, you should aim for at least some type of moderate-intensity aerobic activity for 30 minutes at least 5 days a week. That is in line with the Public Health guidelines for physical activity. Examples of moderate-intensity aerobic activity include brisk walking, jogging, cycling, and swimming.
Adding strength or resistance training will help you build muscles, strengthen bones, and protect joints.
And including more complex activities — such as yoga, rock climbing, gymnastics, and martial arts — will help to build skills and stay agile.
But what if there was one type of activity that could achieve all of these benefits at once?
It turns out that all sports are not created equal. Racket sports stand above the rest in terms of health benefits.
Racket sports are especially great because they simultaneously tax the cardiovascular system and the brain.
According to Ratey, “The combination of challenging the brain and body has a greater positive impact than aerobic exercise alone.”
Sports such as tennis, squash, badminton, and racketball build up your fitness levels, while also requiring complex movements (front to back, and side to side) and quick strategic thinking.
That combination of aerobic activity, strength building, flexibility, and mental fortitude is incredibly rare among other sports.
Additionally, racket sports can be played at any age, and they bring you together with other people for social connection (which we know is fantastic for health).
It should therefore come as no surprise that Forbes has ranked squash as the world’s healthiest sport.
And a large study published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine shows that racket sports help you live longer as well.
The study looked at the link between six different types of exercise (racket sports, swimming, aerobics, cycling, running, soccer) and the risk of early death. Over 80,000 people were included, ranging in age from 30 to 98. The study — which spanned nine years — showed that people who regularly played racket sports were 47% less likely to die (nearly 20 percentage points better than swimming, which came in 2nd with a 28% lower risk of dying).
Racket sports are simply the ultimate mind and body activity.
Racket sports produce the perfect blend of high-intensity interval workouts, balance drills, resistance training, and mental exercises.
So if you are short on time and want to maximize your health, pick up a racket and hit the court.