Golfing is more than a pleasant pastime: Research has shown that regular golf games can offer proven benefits that substantially improve your physical and mental health.
One reason to keep playing: a regular golf schedule can add years to your life—literally. A Swedish study of data on 300,000 golfers found that those who played regularly had a five-year increase in life expectancy over non-golfers of the same age, gender, and socioeconomic status.
Here are some tips on making the most of your time on the green:
1. If possible, skip the golf cart. Better yet, skip the caddy. If you play an 18-hole course three to five times a week and walk rather than ride, researchers estimate you’ll get the optimal amount of endurance exercise for good heart health. “I average about 8,500 steps on the days I play golf. Even in a golf cart, there’s a lot of walking,” says George Pellinger, a resident at Splendido, an all-inclusive community for those 55 and better in Oro Valley.
George’s neighbor at Splendido, Edward Karner, plays 18 holes of golf five days a week. Edward “absolutely” believes that provides a good workout. “Thank goodness I have that activity,” he says. “It’s what I do—I don’t go to the gym or anything like that. And I can still offer a challenge to the younger players.”
2. Get your brain in the game. Golf can also improve your brain health. Not only does the physical exercise stimulate nerve cell connections—which can delay mental deterioration and even dementia—the mental aspects of the game can keep cognition sharp. Tallying scores, planning strategy, and focusing on hand-eye coordination all provide healthy workouts for your brain.
“Golf is a physical, mental, and technical game, and you usually play it against yourself,” says George. “When you get older, your physical game isn’t the same—you simply don’t have the same swing—but you can still challenge yourself mentally and technically.”
Edward agrees, saying, “It’s an everyday challenge. There’s always something different to focus on to improve your game.”
3. Let go of stress. Participating in an activity you enjoy, which requires concentration, can release mood-boosting endorphins in the brain. This immediately makes you feel happier and more relaxed. And during the periods of time you spend eliminating or forgetting stress, you are actually reversing its negative effects on your body and brain.
4. Make it a social game. Getting together with friends and acquaintances has been proven to improve mental health and brain health. So, make the most of socializing during (or before and after) a golf game—catch up on news, share a joke, or make plans for future games.
“I’ve been a member at the Gallery Golf Club for 20-some years,” says Edward. . Part of my enjoyment of the game is the comradeship.”
5. Enjoy the outdoors. Simply being outside has a positive effect on your mood. Research has shown that regular exposure to “green areas” can cause our bodies to relax and let go of stress, as well as ease anxiety. One study showed that those who exercise outdoors rather than inside experienced greater mood elevation and actually exercised for longer periods of time.
“It’s exercise, it’s beautiful out there, and I enjoy the folks I play with,” George sums up. “Golf is a wonderful game.”