Keen tennis player Dr Natasha Beach who specialises in sports medicine explains why joining your park league could be the key to getting fitter, losing weight and lifting your spirits.
Most of us know that taking regular exercise is key to a healthy lifestyle, but it may come as a surprise to learn that tennis is one of the best sports you can choose. That means, joining your Local Tennis League, which organises friendly competitive matches for all standards of adult tennis player, could be the best thing you do this year!
London-based Dr Natasha Beach, a Sports and Exercise Medicine Consultant who has played in her local tennis league.
“I’d certainly recommend people join a league” says Natasha. “Any sport that increases your cardiovascular fitness is good for your health but tennis is right up there. Playing tennis works the whole body - the upper as well as the lower limbs. It is also a very sociable sport and playing any sport regularly is very good for mental health. Tennis reduces depression and anxiety as well as the risks from the medical conditions that people worry most about – including strokes and heart attacks.”
For Natasha, who also runs marathons, fitness wasn’t the main reason for joining her league. “I used to play competitively as a junior when I lived in the countryside and matches were all arranged for me but when I moved to London it was harder to find people to play with. Then I found my local league and got to play with a group of seven others of a similar standard - it was nice to play competitively again.
There are plenty of people out there playing tennis just for fun once or twice a week who start with quite a poor level of fitness. You see it in beginner coaching groups where people might have great difficulty running round the court but after eight sessions they are keeping up with the rest of the recreational players.”
As a guide, Natasha suggests that if you can walk for twenty minutes without needing to stop, there is no reason not to start playing tennis. “Latest guidelines suggest we all need to exercise for half an hour five times a week. But you don’t have to do it all in short blocks. You can play a tennis match for an hour and half once a week and that is half your exercise quota for the whole week.”
As with all sports it is important to warm up first. A gentle jog on the way to the court and some stretches first will reduce the risk of injury.
“Tennis tends to have a lower injury rate than many other sports – it isn’t like rugby of football where you are being tackled to the ground.” Indeed, even if you have a pre-existing medical condition playing tennis may still be of benefit. While it would be important to consult your own GP first, tennis, Natasha points out has been shown to help those suffering with arthritis. “A lot of people with arthritis are concerned about dong exercise that affects the knees for instance but in fact by exercising you strengthen the muscles around the joints and that actually cushions the joint providing comfort and reducing pain.”
For those of us keen to lose a few kilos, we couldn’t have picked a better sport either. “Because it is a stop-start sport your heart rate works both the aerobic and anaerobic pathways, which means tennis helps with fitness and weight loss. Not only will you increase your fitness and capacity to play sport, but over time but you will also lose weight.”
Natasha’s confidence that tennis is good for you is backed by reviews of medical research for the International Tennis Federation that concluded “people who choose to play tennis appear to have significant health benefits, including improved aerobic fitness, a lower body fat percentage, a more favourable lipid [cholesterol] profile, a reduced risk for developing cardiovascular disease, and improved bone health.”
“I’ve played people well into their eighties and even their nineties that give me a run for their money.” adds Natasha, “It’s not all about power and speed – and there is really no age cut off.”