Grab your golf clubs. Spending a day on the green at least once a month may lower the risk of early death among older adults, a new study finds.
About 25 million Americans play golf, which is a sport that can reduce stress and yield exercise benefits. Social in nature and played at a controlled pace, people often continue enjoying the sport into old age.
"Our study is perhaps the first of its kind to evaluate the long-term health benefits of golf, one of the most popular sports among older people in many countries," said lead study author Dr. Adnan Qureshi. He is a professor of neurology at the University of Missouri, in Columbia.
"The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans does not yet include golf in the list of recommended physical activities," Qureshi said in an American Heart Association news release. "Therefore, we are hopeful our research findings could help to expand the options for adults to include golf."
For the study, researchers analyzed data from the Cardiovascular Health Study, which had examined risk factors for heart disease and stroke in adults aged 65 and older. Nearly 5,900 participants with an average age of 72 were studied. Out of all of these patients, 384 were identified as golfers.
During follow-up, 8 percent of golfers suffered strokes and nearly 10 percent had heart attacks. When comparing the death rates, golfers had a significantly lower rate of death -- 15 percent compared to just under 25 percent of non-golfers. However, the study did not prove that golfing itself boosts longevity.
"While walking and low-intensity jogging may be comparable exercise, they lack the competitive excitement of golf," Qureshi explained.
"Regular exercise, exposure to a less polluted environment and social interactions provided by golf are all positive for health," he added. "Another positive is that older adults can continue to play golf, unlike other more strenuous sports such as football, boxing and tennis."
The findings are to be presented next week at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference, in Los Angeles. Such research is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.
The researchers are performing more analyses to determine whether playing golf might counter other health conditions.
Visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine for more on what sports can benefit older adults.