While many of us look forward to watching Wimbledon on TV, more than half of UK adults over the age of 45 admit they haven't played any sport for more than 20 years, according to a recent survey for DW Fitness Clubs. But it's never too late to grab a racket, head out to one of the UK's 20,000 tennis courts and start learning new skills.
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What are the health benefits of tennis?
'Tennis burns 400 calories per hour of play, so it's a great way to boost your health,' says Andy Brooks, fitness manager at Life Leisure.
'This kind of high-intensity exercise is perfect for an all-over body workout that will keep your weight in check and improve your heart health, while strengthening bones and muscles – which is vitally important as we age. And as racket sports require you to think and act quickly, they will improve your agility and reaction time.'
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Why sport can save your life
Over-30s who play racket sports have a 47 per cent lower risk of death from any cause and a 56 per cent lower risk of death from heart disease, says a recent major study from the University of Sydney published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Tennis injury risk
Despite the many benefits of playing tennis, however, you might well be concerned about taking up this high-impact sport because of the risk of injury and joint pain, particularly if you already have an underlying condition, such as arthritis. And you'd definitely be right to be cautious. But these issues aren't insurmountable.
'Knee injuries are very common in tennis, and I see a steady flow of players in clinic every summer,' says consultant orthopaedic surgeon Mr Ian McDermott. 'One of the best ways to avoid injuries is to ensure you're as fit and strong as possible when you play. The easiest way to pick up an injury is to be a "weekend warrior" – to do no exercise all week, so be unfit and out of condition, then play a hard game of tennis at the weekend.'
Get the right gear to protect your joints
It's also vitally important to protect your joints by wearing the right shoes when playing tennis. And no, those old plimsolls from the back of your wardrobe just won't cut it.
You don't have to spend a fortune but it's a good idea to go to a specialist sports shop, where staff will analyse your foot type and offer expert advice to ensure you buy a shoe with the right amount of support for you. Because you'll more than likely be playing on a hard surface, you'll need trainers with a good grip, shock absorption and cushioning. Some sports shoes are specially designed for people with arthritis and joint pain.
Why do your joints ache?
Why you should have some tennis lessons
If you want to get the most from the sport and avoid injury, of course, it pays to get some professional coaching. Something as simple as gripping the racket too tightly can significantly increase your injury risk – so having someone demonstrate how to do things properly can make all the difference and ensure you don't develop bad habits. To find a beginners' course near you, check with your local club or visit www.lta.org.uk.
And remember, tennis clubs have become increasingly inclusive over recent years: some now offer smaller courts, sound balls and chair tennis to cater for a range of needs and disabilities.
Learn more about walking sports
Make new friends by playing tennis
'Ultimately, tennis doesn't just give you a good workout – it's a great way to socialise, too,' says Andy Brooks. 'You'll find a thriving social scene at leisure centres and sports clubs, which organise regular competitions, leagues, group classes and club nights. It's an excellent way to stay motivated and provides you with the support and encouragement you need to keep going.'
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