The days of believing that golfers are overweight, beer-drinking loudmouths with bad pants are long gone as many health-conscious adults are using golf as a way to keep their weight down and their health in tip-top shape.
Surprising to many, the great game of golf can provide a platform for strength building, consistent movement, and tasks that engage the mind. And for seniors, golf can be the avenue to staying active on a physical and social level providing a solid foundation for long-term health.
If you have been wanting to take up golf but have been afraid to try, you should rest assured that the game can offer you plenty in the way of maintaining your blood pressure and heart rate, while providing a low-risk, low-impact workout.
8 Health Benefits of Playing Golf
Here are eight surprising health benefits of playing golf that should encourage you to grab your clubs and hit the links.
1. Extends Your Lifespan
It may sound crazy, but a popular Swedish study showed that golf could extend your lifespan. Karolinska Institutet, the Swedish medical university in Solna, a suburb of Stockholm, put together a survey of 300,000 citizens and found that those individuals who regularly played golf were routinely living five years longer than other Swedes who didn’t hit the links.
The study, published in the Scandanavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, found that golfers were routinely walking several kilometers per round and staying active for multiple hours during their day at the club. Also, golfers were benefiting from the social and psychological aspects of playing a round with friends and family.
Of course, the professors who conducted the study admitted that golf alone might not be the singular cause of the drop in the death rate among the study’s subjects, but rather the game may be a part of an overall healthy lifestyle that involves weight maintenance and regular exercise.
Interestingly, golfers who maintained low handicaps were considered to be the healthiest of the group, a trend that the study’s authors believed was due to frequency on the course. As Professor Andres Ahlbom stated in the study’s report, “Maintaining a low handicap involves playing a lot, so this supports the idea that it is largely the game itself that is good for the health.”
2. Low Risk of Injury
Golf is one of the best games to play to maintain your health because there is little risk of injury. Sure, you might see a professional golfer, such as Tiger Woods, struggle with back injuries throughout their career. Still, your ordinary amateur isn’t swinging the club nearly as hard and as often as a golfer of the 15-time major winner’s stature.
The sport does not require running or hard impact moves such as stopping and starting your movement like basketball. Where those high-intensity sports can cause pain to the joints and muscles, golf is a relatively quiet sport that undoubtedly needs flexibility and strength, but does not involve the radical movement that causes injuries like in so many other physical activities.
This lack of intense physical demand is one of the big reasons why golf is so popular among seniors. Individuals in their 70s and 80s can regularly use the help of a cart to play an early round and enjoy the benefits of the movement associated with golf without worrying about hurting themselves and causing an injury that will require months of physical therapy.
Yes, golfers can hurt themselves by twisting an ankle after taking a wrong step or damage their back after a wild swing, but those injuries will take just a few weeks to overcome compared to a torn knee ligament.
3. Reduces Stress Levels
A great way to reduce stress and receive the health benefits of playing golf is by planning a day at the course with no time boundaries.
For example, If you have set aside an afternoon to play a round, then getting to the club a couple of hours early can provide several options for relaxation. Arriving an hour or two before your tee time allows you to grab some food at the club’s restaurant with friends. This meal can serve as a slow-paced activity that can offer social interaction and energy restoration through a healthy plant-based meal.
Some golfers believe that the game can cause a large amount of stress, but the argument that you are in charge of your reaction to the game plays a massive part in unwinding during your round.
Victor Thompson, a sports psychologist from London, told CNN, “The secret of dealing with golf stress is to get on top of your thoughts. Rather than thinking in terms of how badly you’re playing or what other people will think of you, you need to realize that your emotions are getting the better of you and that anxiety is the problem, not your technique.”
If you find yourself becoming agitated quickly on the golf course, then taking time to hit balls or utilize the putting green can also relieve tension and clear your mind. Regardless of how you choose to spend your time at the club, lowering expectations and focusing on enjoying the moment can bring you an inner calm when playing the great game.
4. Keeps Weight in Check
For those of us who want to find fun activities to lose weight, golf can provide the outlet if you choose to walk rather than ride a cart all over the course. For many, the secret to getting their exercise in each day is by finding motion-driven games that allow the mind to focus on the enjoyable task at hand rather than any discomfort the body is experiencing through the physical exertion.
Golf Digest reported that carrying a bag and walking 18 holes resulted in a caloric burn of roughly 1,500 calories for the moderately-sized male. While it might be challenging to wrap your head around the time and energy, it would take to walk 18 holes with a 30-40 pound bag around your shoulder, playing the game you love and losing weight in the process is undoubtedly worth the aggravation if you are looking to drop a few pounds.
If you are having trouble with getting started, then aim low with your initial walking rounds. Instead of thinking you need to get 18 holes in immediately, start with nine. Build your endurance slowly and without pressure. You’ll find that you begin to enjoy the challenge of playing golf in the original way like they did on the links in Scotland in the 1500s.
However you choose to incorporate walking into your playing routine, whether you carry your bags on your shoulder or use a pushcart, getting onto the course and using your entire body is a sure-fire way to burn calories and lose the weight you feel you need to shed.
5. Keeps You Mentally Sharp
Golf engages the brain in a variety of ways as the player must factor in several elements before hitting their shot, even if they have that brand new driver in their hand. Let’s say that a golfer has a 150-yard shot to the green. First, they must determine yardage either with the help of a rangefinder or by using physical markers on the course itself.
Once the yardage has been determined, the golfer must choose the correct club for the shot. Other elements such as wind speed and direction, the shape of the green, and any potential hazards must also be factored in before deciding on the type of swing the golfer wants to make upon the golf ball.
For professional golfers who have hit hundreds of thousands of shots in their lives, this task may not ask much of their brains, but for the amateur, this calculation can cause the mind to expend energy and engage areas of the brain that are often on autopilot during a regular day.
For seniors, golf is a great activity to help stave off diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Clive Ballard, director of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, told the Daily Mail, “Whether it is going for a jog or walking the golf course, keeping physically active is a great way to keep your heart and your brain healthy. By keeping active, you make sure your brain has a good, strong blood supply, which is essential to help it function better now and in the future.” You should also be eating foods that will boost your brainpower.
6. Helps Cardiovascular Health
Even though golf is a relatively low-impact sport, the game can still benefit the heart through sustained activity such as walking the course. The American Academy of Sports Medicine believes that adults need at least three exercise sessions a week of 30 minutes or more where the heart rate is roughly 60 percent of maximum.
If you want to reach that goal through golf, well, you are in luck as walking the course can elevate your heart rate to 100-120 beats per minute, according to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Walking courses that incorporate elevation is a great way to pick up resistance and increase your resting heart rate as you expend more energy to move up hills and inclines.
Remember, the optimal heart rate range is just a suggestion and should not force you to overdo it, especially if you begin to feel weak or faint as a result of the walking. If you start to feel fatigued, then let the group behind you play through as you hydrate and lower your heart rate.
7. Promotes Social Interaction
One of the sneaky great ways that golf can provide a boost in mind, body, and spirit is through the social interaction that the game brings to a group of players. Since golfers typically hit the course in groups of four, players are given roughly four hours to interact with one another casually.
“Social interaction is the risk factor which has been undervalued,” Roger Hawkes, the chief medical doctor for Team Europe at the Ryder Cup, told CNN. “Mental health is a big thing in this day and age, and moderate physical activity is associated with a reduction in anxiety and a reduction in depression.”
For a group of friends, golf can be the vessel for laughter. Whether it be playful teasing at a lousy swing or remembering old stories, a golf course is a beautiful place to reconnect and reduce the stressors that society can place on working adults.
If you are an adventurous soul, walking up to a course and jumping in as a single player will put you in a social situation where you are forced to interact with strangers. While that may seem off-putting, many golfers develop lifelong relationships through the golf connection, building their circle of friends in new and exciting ways that can certainly benefit their overall health.
8. Provides Consistent Form of Activity
If you prefer to walk the course, you’ll find golf provides a low-impact workout that lasts over several hours. Even if you choose to only walk the front nine holes, you’ll be burning several hundred calories slowly over a couple of hours.
The constant movement that walking the course provides is excellent for maintaining healthy levels of cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure. All three important health indicators show signs of improvement by adults who regularly play golf.
“Golf is one of many sporting activities that may contribute to the lowering of global physical inactivity, and it is a sport that is particularly popular among middle-aged and older adults with the potential of lifelong participation,” Peter Krustrup, a professor of sport and health sciences at the University of Southern Denmark told Reuters.
If you love hitting golf balls and testing your limits on a launch monitor that measures swing speed and distance, just the stationary activity of swinging the golf club can provide a steady form of exercise that elevates your heart rate.
9. Get to the Course and Be Inventive
The next time you head to the course to get a round in, be inventive by incorporating unique forms of exercise into your day so that you can receive the health benefits of playing golf. Even if you take a cart with a friend, walk every other fairway to the green. The additional steps, an activity that may appear to be small, will pay off over time in ways that benefit your attitude and overall well being.