Serve it up and ace a longer life

By Chief Advocate Ian Henschke

This is my first column for the 2019. Happy New Year. Every New Year has added significance for me because I was born on 5 January.

When you have your birthday and your New Year celebrations in the same week you develop an acute, almost anxious, sense of time passing.

And it’s getting stronger. When I do online forms and give my birth date by scrolling back, the digital wheels turn for a very long time. Life spins in reverse. I see flashes from the past. My frail mother holding our baby girl, the twin towers collapsing, my bride coming down the aisle, bushfires, the moon landing, a schoolboy 800m race, my first kiss, grandpa’s funeral, my broken leg, then it stops on 1955.

I turned 64 three weeks ago. I grew up with The Beatles, so it was a particularly poignant day. I put on that song about losing your hair many years from now. I could see myself listening to it for the first time at my friend Tony’s place. He’d got an import copy of the LP before anyone else and had a Sergeant Pepper’s “happening”. I was 12 and read the lyrics, imagining this old bloke in the song. Now I’m him.

They say 60 is the new 40, but 60 is still the same old 60. I’m almost in life’s departure lounge. My days are numbered. But what’s the number? And can you make the number bigger? We were told having a glass of red a day did the trick but now they’ve found any level of alcohol will send you to an early grave. Scientists agree exercise can add a few years. But what exercise and how many years?

A new study says getting highly strung with a racquet and doing a few lobs regularly on the court is the best answer to keeping the grim reaper away. Roger Federer is living proof tennis slows the body clock. But what’s so special about tennis?

A paper published in the journal, Mayo Clinic Proceedings, tracked nearly 9000 Danes over 25 years. They were part of the Copenhagen City Heart Study. (I’ve got a good dose of Viking in me, so I took note.) Around 1000 of the Danes didn’t exercise, the rest did.

Tennis players had the biggest gains in life expectancy, adding on average almost 10 years. Badminton players came second, with a gain of more than six years. Bike riders only got 3.7, swimmers 3.4 and joggers 3.2 years.

The bad news for people selling gym club memberships was exercising in a health club added just 1.5 years and came in last.

When I was a TV reporter a few years back I went to the Semaphore Lawn Tennis Club to do a story on their players. The club was formed in 1882 and it lays claim to being the oldest in South Australia. It certainly has some of the state’s oldest players as members.

I saw people in their 70s and 80s. The eldest was 90. One had been playing regularly for 76 years. Another had two strokes and heart trouble but was still bashing a ball around and joking he couldn’t think of a better way to go than doing the ultimate drop shot playing with friends. I vowed to take up tennis again but never did.

When I was growing up there were tennis courts everywhere. Social tennis was a big craze. We were the best nation in the world with a virtual monopoly on Wimbledon and the Davis Cup. The Australian Open men’s final was held on the Rod Laver arena.

Rod Laver was the champion of champions, and although he had a stroke at 70 he, like our friend at Semaphore, made a recovery and is now 80.

The Copenhagen study showed different sports produce different gains in longevity, but the researchers think it might not be just the exercise. Social interaction might be the key.

When I used to take my children to Scouts I discovered the hall was booked afterwards by a Scottish dancing group. I got to know the organiser. She was in her 80s. She told me Scottish dancing had been scientifically proven to hold back the years and sharpen the mind.

Once again, the combo of the exercise and social bonding was the answer. So, if you’re going to have a late new year’s resolution pick one big on the social aspect of life. Take up tennis or Scottish dancing, or both, but don’t get the moves mixed up. 

Time to get a tennis racquet and a kilt. But I’ll make sure I’ll wear jocks, so the tennis balls are the only ones flashing about on the court.

First published on on 28 January 2019.

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