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August 2006 Article

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The Sport For A Lifetime

Jani Macari Pallis, 
Ph.D. Photo
Jani Macari Pallis, Ph.D.

You have heard tennis called "The Sport For A Lifetime." No one could embody that expression more for me than Mr. Robert "Bob" Lawrence. Bob is the father of one of my friends and co-workers, Mrs. Judi Licata. Mr. Lawrence passed away in July at age 96. Bob played tennis on the "Senior Senior" tennis tour until he was 93, when his vision and some health issues forced him to retire. He traveled the world playing tennis and enjoying the company of good friends and players. He and his doubles partner (who was 2 years older) had several national titles as seniors. However, what you really need to know is that Bob started playing tennis when he was 75. Most of us hope we can still play when we are 75, but that's when Bob first got hooked.

You also have to know that Mr. Lawrence was a very driven person. I always considered myself a high-energy person, but Judi would tell me about her dad's escapades and I'd feel tired just thinking about them. Bob founded L-W International and his company developed a camera technology that allowed frame-by-frame examination - a precursor to the motion capture and analysis systems used today. One of these cameras was used during the manned Apollo flights to the moon in the late 1960's.

Members of the "Senior Senior" Tour (Bob Lawrence is third from the left)
Courtesy USTA New England (2003)

Bob had a life goal of climbing to the Base Camp on the south side of Mount Everest in Nepal (17,600 feet). Bob accomplished this when he was 75 years old and under some dramatic and adverse conditions. He broke his foot the first day out, but he wanted to do this so badly that he climbed with the broken foot and made it to the Base Camp.

So what do you do after you've accomplished a life goal and you've climbed to the Mount Everest Base Camp? Bob was bored. Around that time his wife suggested, "Play tennis."

I'm not suggesting that people in their 70's dash out to the court and start playing. Many of my Tennis Server fellow writers and colleagues have noted both the physical strain tennis can cause as well as the physical, physiological and psychological benefits of tennis.

Both Greg Moran's "It Could Happen To You" and Dr. John Murray's "Coping with a Real Loss" discuss death due to cardiac issues on the tennis court. Babette Pluim, M.D., Ph.D., physician for the Netherlands' team and president of the Society for Tennis Medicine and Science documents in "Prevention of Acute Cardiac Disorders in Tennis Players" that cardiac disease is not limited to middle-aged and senior players. My own Tennis SET columns have addressed "Sport Physical Examinations - Your Health And Your Game" and "Hydration, Dehydration and Rehydration" - the latter noting concerns for seniors.

However, clinical evidence of the health benefits of tennis have been well documented. The Cleveland Clinic, considered our country's top-ranked heart care facility, has called tennis "an ideal sport for a healthy heart."

In two hallmark papers published in 1993 and 1995 in the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Journal of Medicine, Ralph Paffenbarger, M.D. documented results of a 20-year study. In particular in the latter, he led a longevity study which tracked 17,321 male Harvard alumni and determined that those playing tennis for three hours a week (at moderately vigorous intensity) halved their risk of death from any cause.

In "Health Benefits of Tennis: Why Play Tennis?" renowned sport scientist, Jack L. Groppel, Ph.D. outlines a series of studies which have addressed the positive health benefits of tennis. In addition to Paffenbarger's studies, Groppel notes that Dr. Joan Finn and colleagues at Southern Connecticut State University documented that tennis players "scored higher in vigor, optimism and self-esteem while scoring lower in depression, anger, confusion, anxiety and tension than other athletes and non-athletes." Dr. Jim Gavin, author of "The Exercise Habit," stated that "tennis outperforms golf, inline skating and most other sports in developing positive personality characteristics" and researchers at the University of Illinois reported that "since tennis requires alertness and tactical thinking, it may generate new connections between nerves in the brain and thus promote a lifetime of continuing development of the brain."

Johns Hopkins University researchers (Houston, et. al., 2002) showed that more than any other activity, middle-aged men who played tennis had a significantly lower incidence of cardiovascular disease as they aged.

Most recently, Dr. Bonita Marks from the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at the University of Exercise and Sport Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, conducted a review of tennis related health research from 1966-2005. She determined that veteran tennis players demonstrated greater aerobic capacity, bone density, strength, lower body fat and sustained reaction time compared to those of the same age. However, she could not conclude that tennis alone was solely responsible. Future studies are suggested to isolate any effects from cross training. Still the positive effects are clear.

There is also significant research to support that is never too late. In fact the body of work compiled by Roy J. Shephard, Ph.D. highlights that what was considered physiological changes due to "aging" in the past may truly be the result of inactivity (not calendar age). Shephard provides numerous study results which demonstrate the regular physical activity and moderate training can defer physiological deterioration by 10 to 20 years.

I'd also like to point out two columns that Tennis Servers' Greg Moran has also written related to the subject "Cardio Tennis" and "It's Never Too Late."

In Bob Lawrence's memory and to those other seniors in our lives that inspire us, we dedicate this month's column.

Until Next Month ... Jani

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This column is copyrighted by Jani Macari Pallis, Ph.D., all rights reserved.

Dr. Jani Macari Pallis is the founder and CEO of Cislunar Aerospace, Inc., an engineering and research firm in San Francisco. In addition to her engineering practice, she has led two collaborations between NASA and Cislunar, creating educational materials on the aerodynamics of sports for pre-college students and educators. As the head of NASA's "Aerodynamics in Sports" project, she has led a team of researchers investigating the aerodynamics, physics and biomechanics of tennis. The group has conducted high speed video data capture at the US Open and research of ball/court interaction, footwork, serve speeds, trajectories and ball aerodynamics. Pallis received a BS and MS from the Georgia Institute of Technology, an MS in mechanical engineering from the University of California, Berkeley and a Ph.D. in mechanical and aeronautical engineering from the University of California, Davis. She is a member of the Executive Committee of The International Sports Engineering Association.

Questions and comments about these columns can be directed to Jani by using this form.


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