The mental health benefits from playing golf

Tania Longmire
By Tania Longmire July 23, 2019 23:00

One of golf’s greatest selling points is that regularly playing the game has a number of physical health benefits. What’s sometimes overlooked, however, is the mental health gains that can also be made.

Earlier this year England Golf teed off its #SwitchOffWithGolf campaign, with ambassadors Dan Walker and Professor Greg Whyte encouraging golf fans to reduce screen-time and increase green-time to improve their mental well-being.

Some surveys find that more than 80 per cent of adults say they experience stress regularly and technology has been identified as a cause of this and disruption to personal life, with many people often feeling overwhelmed by the ‘always on’ culture, forever connected by personal messaging services and social media.

Professor Greg Whyte and television presenter Dan Walker.

Walker, a passionate golfer, outlines how easy it is to find a format that fits around daily commitments, saying: “We’ve all got busy lives and it’s hard to fit things in sometimes, but it is possible. We’ve got three kids, I’ll drop one of them off at a piano lesson and then know I’ve got 20 minutes to go to the driving range, maybe play a couple of holes or just hit a few balls, then go back to pick them up.

“You know what it’s like, sometimes you have a bad day. The great thing about golf is that feeling when you hit one ball, just smash it, even if it doesn’t go down the middle that feeling is beautiful. If you’re busy at home and busy at work, there are still so many ways to switch off with golf.”

Greg Whyte OBE, professor in applied sport and exercise science at Liverpool John Moores University, has added his expertise to the campaign, re-iterating the physical and psychological benefits of playing the sport.

“We know that 85 per cent of adults experience stress on a regular basis and over two-thirds of those actually feel overwhelmed by that stress. Physical activity and outdoor activity are incredibly potent stimuli for positive lifestyle changes because it impacts all areas of health simultaneously by improving physical, mental and social health.

“We don’t need to overthink this – golf is a fantastic stress reliever in whatever way you choose to play it. You can really tailor the game to suit your needs so on a day where you want to play all day go and play 18 holes but if you’ve got 15 minutes and want to de-stress, you can head to the range.”

Similarly, Professor Jenny Roe, environmental psychologist and director of the Center for Design & Health, University of Virginia, says golf is one way of benefiting from a regular ‘dose’ of green space to boost psychological wellbeing and physical health.

“I think to get out and play golf you are really helping manage your mental health in a very holistic way,” she said.

“There’s a wealth of evidence, using robust, scientific methods, to show the benefits of ‘green exercise’ – exercise in the natural outdoors – compared to exercise indoors, including the gym.

Professor Jenny Roe

“When you step into a green space, there’s a number of things that happen with both your physiology and your psychology. Your parasympathetic nervous system kicks in – the system that’s associated with relaxation – and your stress physiology actually changes. You literally manage stress more efficiently when you are in a green space.

“Contact with nature allows us to recover from brain fatigue, reduces our stress levels and improves our mood. In turn, improved mood is linked to what’s called the ‘broaden and build’ hypothesis, with an increased capacity for creative thought and cognitive flexibility that can – potentially – lead to new thought-action repertoires on and off the golf course, and improved performance.”

Supporting the professors’ comments is North Wales Golf Club’s assistant professional Tom Bowen, who has launched a mental health campaign for young adults, after the sport helped him turn his life around from depression.

Bowen works with young adults, aged 18 to 24, through mental health charity MIND and Nant Y Glyn health resource centre in Colwyn Bay, to offer step-by-step opportunities to use golf to help them through.

“It is certainly something I have a passion for, I want to help people to turn their lives around too,” he said.

“Golf is a very social sport, very inclusive and ability does not matter because you can have fun whatever your level.”

Bowen once did not want to leave the house, then he was able to play a hole or two, then built up to 18 holes and then qualified to take his PGA professional qualifications and worked as an assistant pro.

He believes the unique qualities of golf played a crucial role in his recovery and it is an opportunity he wants to spread as widely as possible.

“We have managed to secure funding from HSBC Golf Roots for a scheme to help young adults suffering from mental health conditions.” he explained.

“We are going to be working with the local mental health centre, Nant-y-Glyn, where I was myself a patient, Motiv8 and MIND.

“We give the young adults access to private one-to-one 30 minute lessons followed by 15 to 20 minutes to sit and chat after each session. Socialisation is just as important as the golf, they can relax having a coffee or tea.

“Along with the private lessons, I hold small group sessions for those that loved the one-to-one lesson and want to learn more.

“These may be people who are not used to being in a group environment, but they will get the chance to have fun and learn with people who may be suffering just like them.

“The goal is allowing them to get out onto the golf course in the sun, and maybe eventually move onto membership.

“We have done some literature on my story, how golf turned my life around, and how by offering this programme people in similar scenarios can be given the chance to get their lives back on track through golf and activity.

Tom Bowen, right

“I have been where they have been. Golf brought me back from the abyss and allowed me to begin socialising again and has led me to where I am now.

“Golf is very social sport, you can be with the same small group of people for up to five hours, so it can really help you to develop your social skills, it is outdoors in the sun which is shown to have a beneficial effect and can improve mental well-being.”

 

Tania Longmire
By Tania Longmire July 23, 2019 23:00
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