The Sporting Life


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In honor of the Winter Olympics in Sochi, one of our computational biologists, Emma Pierson, took a look at aggregated de-identified data from 23andMe customers, focusing on associations between certain traits and participation in sports.

Sochiolympicrings

Photo: Atos International and Wiki Commons

Unfortunately, we have no data on curling, but Emma looked at a range of 39 different sports from archery to wrestling. She found associations between athletics and certain personality types, different kinds of injuries, and participant’s relative level of health.

Some of these associations make sense — tall people play basketball, flexible people do yoga and gymnastics. And if you are athletic and active it stands to reason that you get some health benefits from that. But other associations Emma found are thought-provoking.

In terms of personality traits, the athletic tend to be more adventurous, assertive, optimistic and extroverted. They are also less anxious, neurotic and shy. Go team!

But all that activity unsurprisingly made them more injury-prone. Emma found those who participated in sports are more likely to have had dislocated joints, tendinitis, ACL tears, shin splints, arthroscopic surgery, and ankle sprains.

We found we could divide our 39 sports into eight different clusters: in the picture below, two sports are connected if people who play one sport also tend to play the other sport. You can also see the interactive visualization here.

We found we could divide the sports into eight different clusters with any two sports  connected if people who play one sport also tend to play the other sport. You can also see the interactive visualization here. Emma came up with the unique classifications.

And then there is this: People who play sports report health benefits — lower heart rates, lower stress and are less likely to be short of breath after climbing on stairs. Even when you control for age, income and BMI, they still report health benefits. But controlling for those same things Emma also found that athletic people simply have a more positive perception of their own health. For example, Emma compared sporty and non-sporty customers, who have similar BMI, and found that those who participate in sports tend to rate their health higher. They even rate themselves as more attractive, and better at math.

Different physical traits predispose us towards different sports.

If you… You’re more likely to engage in… But less likely to engage in…
Are really flexible Yoga, Martial Arts, Dance, Gymnastics, Skating, Swimming, Jogging, Aerobics, Eliptical Machine
Are taller Golf, Baseball Football, Basketball,Swimming and Volleyball Gymnastics,
Have bigger feet Baseball Football, Basketball, Weight-lifting and Volleyball Dance and Gymnastics
Suffer from altitude sickness Hiking, Downhill Skiing, Backpacking, Cycing, Yoga and Jogging

Many other lifestyle traits showed sport-specific effects as well.

If you… You’re more likely to engage in… But less likely to engage in…
Are politically conservative Golf, Baseball and Football Hiking, Cross Country Skiing, Walking, Cycling, and Yoga
Have a good sense of direction Hiking, Backpacking, Walking, Downhill Skiing, Golf, Cycling, Swimming, Dance, Volleyball, and Soccer
Were in the military Running, Powerlifting, Jogging, Martial Arts, Elliptical Machine
Use a tanning bed Stair Climbing, Jogging, Aerobics, Weight Lifting, Elliptical Machine Hiking





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