What are the health benefits of playing golf?

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick February 1, 2024 11:37

There have been numerous studies going back several years that show that playing golf regularly can help people live up to five years longer. Here, summarising some of these studies, is Dr Kiran Kanwar PhD.

How many times have you sneaked away for a round of golf and had to make excuses for going? How many times have you been yelled at for wasting time on a boring hours-long activity? And how often have you wished that you could somehow justify this great obsession so that family and friends might actually encourage you to go play? Well look no further and simply forward this well-referenced article to your family and friends and guess what? All your (golfing) sins shall be forgiven.

A lot of research has been conducted on the topic of golf for health. Did you know that the First International Congress on Golf and Health took place in 2018 and was jointly presented by the leading bodies of health and golf – The International Society for Physical Activity and Health and The R&A’s Golf and Health Project? The R&A has, in fact, had the Golf and Health Project in place since 2016 and there is now a Golf and Health Week, which has been hailed by parliament itself.

Most recently, a ‘golf on prescription’ project was piloted in Fife by The R&A and the University of St Andrews School of Medicine. This project was designed to connect eligible primary care patients with appropriate golf activities in Fife. Local GPs and four golf clubs were also involved in the project, and 30 participants were enrolled in the first programme.

So why are all these leading organisations so excited about prescribing golf for better health? Mainly because on one hand physical inactivity has been associated with one in six deaths in the UK, and, on the other, golf has been known to have physical, mental and social benefits. One amazing piece of research published on the role of golf in health has shown that on average, golfers live five years longer than non-golfers!

Of course, many of the health benefits are predicated upon golfers walking on the golf course and, often, pushing their golf bags on a trolley, not riding in a golf cart. Even spectators at golf events benefit because one day might result in around 11,000 steps. So, if you’re a cart-rider, next time try to walk some holes while your cart-partner drives!

Still need more evidence for your don’t-waste-time-on-golf objectors? The Golf Report 2016-2020 lays it all out. Not only is golf great for the oodles of fresh air and general camaraderie and bonhomie of spending hours with one’s buddies, but it can improve many disease markers and even help people with chronic conditions to either feel better or actually improve their disease condition.

Golf is a moderate-intensity level physical activity for most people and past research has shown that it can be a high-intensity level activity for older adults. In fact, for older adults it may help to improve cardiovascular, respiratory and metabolic health. An important claim by the report is that golf can help to prevent and treat 40 major chronic diseases including diabetes, heart attacks, stroke, some cancers and depression. Wow – who knew that our beloved sport that we probably play for selfish and other wrong reasons is actually a magic bullet not just for a greater lifestyle but for a better life too?

All of the above are best achieved through help from golf courses and from the governing bodies of golf themselves – The R&A and the USGA. How? Courses interested in helping golfers stay fit should design or redesign their facilities to be suitable for walking. Less green-to-next-tee distances, less steep slopes, more realistic tee-to-green yardages. How can the powers-that-be help?

Firstly, by forgetting about equipment rollback and focusing on golf course length rollback! Then by offering free clubs, golf bags and trolleys to those deemed eligible for a medical golf prescription. And finally, by certifying golf pros to teach golf and the golf swing for those starting golf slightly later in life and who need a safer swing technique.

Here is an insider view from having been the project manager for the University of Southern California’s Division of Biokinesiology R&A-funded Golf for Healthy Aging project. Fifteen non-golfer healthy male and female seniors aged 60 to 80 were recruited from the local community and provided ten weeks of twice-weekly exercise and golf for 1.5 hours each time. After the first four weeks during which they received reducing amounts of warm-up time starting at 45 minutes and progressively going down to 15, participants were taught the fundamentals of the full-swing and short game. From then on, they began playing on the course, starting with two holes and ending up with a quick nine holes on week ten. The study showed that participants improved muscle strength, gait speed and cognitive skills, all important aspects of aging well. Subjectively, the team in charge saw participants go from being exhausted while pushing their trolleys up a ramp at the end of the round during week four, to going up the ramp rather effortlessly by week ten.

What is sure to have aided motivation for the participants is the fact that the training sessions as well as golf clubs, balls and greens fees were all provided to them at no cost. Then, the golf instructor and the team all walked with the participants, encouraging them and motivating them along the way. Groups were formed as a result of whichever four people were being trained at the time, negating the need for individuals to fix their own games. One might say that free golf and organising days and groups might be an added bonus for many who might otherwise be intimidated by what has long been considered a sport for the very wealthy.

Additionally, the limited time allotted to golf per week (participants were asked not to play any golf outside of the programme for the duration of the study) is probably suitable for not leading to the many overused injuries golf has been known for. Few are studying the musculoskeletal profile of people who might take up the sport in a serious way and play and practice more frequently. It needs a long-term longitudinal study to assess. Moreover, just because people participate in a study, regardless of their age, does not mean they will be retained by the sport unless they see decent or better performance.

While these programmes are sure to lure people into golf, a long-term strategy is advisable for retaining new golfers in the sport. Probably the most important thing any group of organisations prescribing golf can do would be to have a consultant who can train local golf instructors in suitable methods for helping newcomers-to-golf see early success and reduced injury risk. One such consulting service at www.YourGolfGuru.com.

Fellow golfers, it’s time to go back to the game of decades ago. To a time when golfers walked, communed with nature and unknowingly availed of the many health benefits of golf. While at the same time living an extra five years to recount their grand and gory golf tales at the 19th hole!

LPGA Master instructor Kiran Kanwar has a PhD in kinesiology (biomechanics and anatomy) and wrote a thesis on causes of golf swing-related injuries. Kiran is also chair of Stanton University’s golf department. Visit her website www.YourGolfGuru.com

Seamus Rotherick
By Seamus Rotherick February 1, 2024 11:37
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  1. Samuel February 14, 08:56

    Very true…golf is very good for mental,physical, social and spiritual well-being for all ages !

    Reply to this comment
  2. Dalton February 1, 12:08

    Guaranteed to give you high stress levels…

    Reply to this comment
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