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Fitness Basics: Learning to Love Tennis

Yes, it can help you get fit. But the benefits of tennis go beyond the physical, experts say.
By
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic-Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Can a slice backhand, topspin forehand, or overhead smash help you lose those love handles? Experts say tennis can do that and much more – it's a way to learn a new skill, build strength and flexibility, stimulate your mind, and gain a new social outlet.

And you don't have to be Rafael Nadal -- the Spanish player whose skills and bulging biceps are taking the tennis world by storm -- to realize the benefits of the sport.

"Tennis is for anyone and everyone," says Bob Helmig, a U.S. Professional Tennis Association (USTA) and U.S. Professional Tennis Registry (USPTR) pro from Tucson, Ariz.

Among tennis' physical benefits, he says, are improved strength, flexibility, and fitness.

The fitness benefits are felt during long rallies with a partner and short, intense bursts of activity while you're chasing a ball. The strength and flexibility come because you're using large muscle groups to run, stand ready, serve, and return balls.

Tennis is a sport where you're twisting, lunging and reaching all the time. And this helps improve balance and stability as well as strength and flexibility.

"There's great lateral movement because you're always changing direction, unlike running, which is very linear," says Helmig, who teaches at the Tucson Racquet and Fitness Club.

And tennis will do more than help get you physically fit, he says.

"It's mental and emotional," he says. "A player really learns to be focused, which transcends into other areas of life."

On the court, you learn to think several steps ahead, adapt quickly to changes, anticipate your opponent, and implement winning strategies – valuable skills in most any profession. You can also learn to be a humble winner and a gracious loser, the USTA says. And you'll improve your reaction time and your hand-eye coordination.

Furthermore, hitting the ball can be a great de-stressor, says Shannon Smith, USPTA tennis pro in Fort Bragg, Calif.

And there are the social aspects of tennis, which can also be a huge fitness benefit, says Smith.

Because you need at least one partner to play, "tennis can keep people active by making a commitment to another person," she says.

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