While golf has been popular in North America since around the 1920s, the sport experienced a significant surge in popularity in 2020 as more people took to the outdoors to socialize and get some exercise.
You probably already know that golfing with your friends (or even alone) might be lots of fun, but have you ever considered the ways in which golfing can help to improve your health?
A number of studies have found that there are many health benefits that golfers stand to gain — including those that impact not only one's physical state but also their emotional wellbeing. For example, golfers and golf spectators who walk an entire 18-hold course are estimated to walk between 7,500 and 10,000 steps (roughly 4 to 5 miles, or 5 to 7 kilometers), which is the daily recommendation of steps for a healthy lifestyle.
Golfing can also provide a lift in your mood and have potential long-term benefits for the brains of aging adults. Golfing serves as a way to reduce stress, make or strengthen relationships, get in touch with nature and the outdoors, and improve concentration and emotional control.
Golf Serves As a Form of Moderate-Intensity Exercise
While golfing might not seem as strenuous as other sports such as basketball or soccer, it's still considered a form of "moderate-intensity physical activity."
That's because golf involves movement such as walking (often for miles, as mentioned above), lifting and rotating your torso and arms while you swing the club, and carrying your golf bag around, which typically weighs around 30 lbs. The European Institute of Golf Course Architects states that all of this activity can contribute to improvements in strength, stamina, balance, and mobility.
Like other types of exercise, golfing can also increase your heart rate and boost circulation, especially if you skip the golf cart and walk the whole course instead (particularly if you do so on a hot, sunny day, which will require extra effort—just don’t forget the SPF).
The enhanced blood flow and slight exhaustion required by golfers can support heart health in a variety of ways, such as by normalizing blood pressure and helping your heart muscle to become more efficient at pumping blood throughout your body.
In 2020, researchers from the University of Southampton in England and the University of Southern California conducted a study on the benefits of golf among older adults and found that it can significantly improve the quality of life for older golfers in a host of different ways — such as by increasing muscle strength, balance, aerobic fitness, walking capabilities, endurance, and social interactions.
The researchers involved in this study estimate that the aerobic benefits of golf are on par with those tied to other popular forms of exercise such as weightlifting workouts and yoga.
Golfers in the study were found to have better dynamic balance and static balance than non-golfers, as well as greater strength of limb muscles and greater physical abilities such as gripping, swinging a club, walking, and squatting. Regular exercise is also known to maintain bone strength and reduce the risk for fractures and falls.
The World Health Organization recommends a weekly combination of aerobic, strength, and balance exercises for older adults to help fight the negative effects of inactivity (such as weight gain, loss of flexibility, and muscle wasting); As you can see, golfing is one way to check all three boxes.
The Mental Challenge That Goes Into Golfing
Not only can golf promote cardiovascular health, but it's also thought to help enhance brain function. As all golfers and golf enthusiasts know, this sport requires a good deal of concentration and memory, as well as emotional composure.
It's no surprise then that many studies have found that participating in sports regularly can help to prevent or reduce cognitive decline.
One health-promoting attribute of golf that makes it somewhat unique is that it's almost always done outdoors. And we know from a large body of research that time spent outdoors, especially in green spaces and in sunlight, confers numerous mental health benefits.
Here's one example: studies have found that participating in an activity that requires your attention, walking outside, and being amongst greenery all tend to improve feelings of happiness and reduce stress. You can see why golf has major potential to boost your outlook, including in both the short-term and long-term if you practice regularly. This helps to explain why, according to Golf Digest, 2020 saw a record number of new players taking up the game.
Like other types of exercise and sports, golfing is a fun way to increase the release of feel-good chemicals including endorphins and serotonin, which have depression-fighting and anxiety-reducing effects. Higher release of these chemicals is also associated with improved self-esteem and confidence.
Finally, the combination of exposure to fresh air, sunlight, and the physical activity involved in golfing, as well as the social component, can all help to improve your sleep, which is essential for physical and mental well-being. Getting quality sleep is now considered to be just as important for overall health as a balanced diet, since sleep supports a strong immune system, can help regulate your appetite and prevent weight gain, strengthens your heart, enhances your mood, and even improves memory.