As all golfers know, a game of golf is both mentally stimulating and physically challenging. Golf may not be considered a physically demanding sport, but one round will likely mean you are outside and moving around, walking at a pace of 6-7km, for several hours at a time and constantly using your brain for the many mental challenges you face. There are many stated health benefits of golf, from scientific and anecdotal sources, but just how good is the game for the body and mind?
Seven health benefits of golf
- Heart health – any form of physical exercise helps get the blood pumping to your heart. Walking, carrying your bag and swinging all increase your heart rate and blood flow. Your risk of a stroke and diabetes are reduced, and there can be positive effects on reducing blood pressure and harmful cholesterol, especially if combined with a healthy diet and lifestyle. The Norwegian Golf Federation (NGF) found that during an 18-hole round, a player will have an average heart rate of 100 beats per minute, over a two to five hour period
- Brain stimulation – regular daily walking strengthens the brain’s memory circuits. Clive Ballard, director of research at the Alzheimer’s Society, says: ‘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 future.”
- Weight loss – the golden number of steps per day needed for weight loss is 10,000. An 18-hole round easily exceeds this recommended number, especially when you walk and do not use a golf cart. The Norwegian Golf Federation (NGF) found that recent research projects (referring to those in Norway, Japan, Germany, the US and Sweden) revealed that a male golfer burns around 2,500 kCal during an 18-hole round, and female players burn approximately 1,500 kCal (read 9 Holes for Better Health – in Norwegian)
- Reduces stress – the pleasure of walking in fresh air, socialising, with an added mental challenge means golf releases endorphins, the natural mood-enhancing chemicals in your brain, which make you happy and relaxed
- Improved sleep – exercise and fresh air are a powerful combination for improved sleep. Walking the course will give you a good workout. Regular exercise helps you sleep faster and remain in a deep sleep for longer. Sleep helps your muscles rest and repair
- Low injury – golf is a low-impact activity in the sense that one walks on a soft, gently rolling surface. More mature players find this attractive as they can burn calories with a low risk of injury
- Live longer – a Swedish study by the Karolinska Institutet led by Professor Anders Ahlbom, found that golfers have a 40% lower death rate, which corresponds to a 5-year increase in life expectancy (read Golf: A game of life and death – reduced mortality in Swedish golf players)
“The health benefits of golf are far greater than most of us seem to believe, and may have a much greater and broader impact on our wellbeing than we may have realised. Considering how well a good golf facility can appeal to people of all age groups, golf is a wonderful way to encourage exercise,” says Edwin Roald, EIGCA Council member.
In addition to the scientific research above, the NY Times ran a story in July 2015 following two studies which found there are many health benefits of golf: “A walk in the park may soothe the mind and, in the progress, change the workings of our brains in ways that improve our mental health.” (read this blog post).
Golf carts are not a fundamental part of the game
The use of golf carts is widespread and it can be all too easy to jump in a cart rather than take a leisurely stroll. While golf carts are useful in terms of enabling the elderly and people with disabilities to enjoy golf as a form of recreation, their extensive use has likely contributed, as much as anything else, to golf‘s apparent elitist image. Whenever possible, golfers should say no to a cart and play golf on foot, as it was meant to be played, and reap the rewards of the health benefits of golf.