On the surface, golf doesn't seem like the most physically demanding sport. But it would be a mistake to overlook the health benefits of 18 holes.
That golf is old-fashioned or boring is one of the biggest misconceptions about it, according to Bradley Myrick, director of golf operations at TPC Danzante Bay in Loreto, Mexico, along with, "the faster you swing the further the ball goes," that you can't hit the course until you're good, and "the goal is to hit the ball as far as you can." (Wait it's… not?)
"When golfing, you’re fully in tune with your body and how everything works together," he says. "A common misconception about golf is that it does not provide physical health benefits," says Andrew Creighton, DO, physiatrist at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) and avid golfer who played D1 golf in college. "However, a scoping review published by Murray et al. in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2016 found that golf provides moderate intensity physical activity, which is recommended to people of all ages for physical and mental health benefits."
There you have it: The health benefits of golf are both physical and mental. The experts outline them below.
What are the physical health benefits of golf?
1. Strength and endurance
"Along with swinging a club, golf courses typically involve lots of walking, which builds quads and hamstrings," says Myrick. In fact, according to that scoping review Creighton mentioned earlier, golfers who walk 18 holes will typically take between 11,245 and 16,667 steps and golfers who ride a cart will walk around 6,280 steps.
For perspective, cartless golfers walk a distance of four to eight miles and cart-riders walk just under four miles. "Golfers walking the course gain more health-enhancing physical activity than those riding the course," Creighton says.
2. Aerobic fitness
Creighton refers back to the scoping review. It found that, while high-intensity exercises result in more cardiovascular improvement, golf can still provide enough stimulation to improve aerobic fitness. Bonus: Golf is a good way to incorporate a lower impact activity into your exercise routine (because it's actually not great to HIIT it every day). Additionally, "Improvements in known risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as physical inactivity, blood lipid and insulin-glucose levels, body composition, and aerobic fitness have been associated with golf," he says. And with patients who require cardiac or stroke rehabilitation, golf has been noted to provide appropriate exercise. "As with any physical activity, golfers with new or unstable cardiac symptoms should consult with a physician," Creighton says.
3. Balance and core stability
Yes, golf can be an abs exercise, lending credence to the idea that anything can be an abs exercise if you try hard enough. "Focusing on a balanced swing with concentration on your core helps ensure accuracy," Myrick says.
"It has been suggested that older golfers may gain improved balance, muscular function and strength," says Creighton.
"Stretching is an important part of the game, and flexibility is paramount to the swing and reducing injury," says Creighton. (Pro-golfer Tiffany Joh shares her tips on how to improve flexibility here.)
What are the mental health benefits of golf?
"Moderate exercise, including golf, is proven to reduce stress and anxiety," Myrick says. And "experiences in nature provide stress reduction and restoration from mental fatigue," he adds. (Two things a lot of us are feeling these days.)
"With positive and negative mood changes noted [in the review], there is conflicting evidence with regard to the effect of golf on mood and anxiety," Creighton says. "However, there were a couple of studies that highlighted a 'sense of cool control' and 'release of aggression' with golf, which can be qualities that combat stress."
"There have been a number of studies that highlighted the golf benefits with regard to self and group identity and social connectedness," Creighton says. He says that golf is a great opportunity for intergenerational connectedness because it can be played by people of all ages and ability levels. "It typically takes four to five hours to play 18 holes," he says. "What other activity can you do that allows for that amount of sustained time with other people?"
How to prevent golf-related injuries
Like with any sport, injuries can happen, especially with repetitive motions. According to the 2016 review, golf has very low injury rates compared to other sports. However, amateur golfers have around a 15-40 percent chance of injury over their lifetime.
"The most frequent cause of injury in amateur and professional golfers is volume of repetitive practice, and in amateur golfers this can sometimes be coupled with poor swing biomechanics," Creighton says. Swinging a club is a repetitive motion that twists your body one way multiple times over the course of several hours, it's important to properly warm-up, cool-down, and stretch.
Creighton recommends doing a dynamic warm-up before setting foot on the driving range or course to help prevent injury. He also recommends taking the time to fine-tune your swing with a PGA professional to help avoid injuries related to poor form and technique. "When practicing for golf, change up what you work on (driving, irons, chipping, putting) to help avoid any overuse injuries that may come from constant repetition of the same shot type," he says.
Getting quality sleep and eating before you play are also important to injury prevention, Creighton says. "Have small snacks such as a banana, nuts, or protein bar during the round of golf."
Also, since golf is outdoors, it can be a great way ease your way back into having a social life if you're having post-pandemic anxiety. And last but not least, it's a great excuse to get a new exercise dress.
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