Want to stay healthy well into your golden years? Grab a bag of clubs and hit the green, new research suggests.
Golfing beat walking or even Nordic walking (a full-body workout that consists of walking using specialized poles) when it came to improving several key measures of heart health in the small study.
“The results of this study are meant to encourage older adults to spend more time on the golf course and play by walking,” said study author Julia Kettinen, a doctoral researcher at the Institute of Biomedicine/Sports and Exercise Medicine at the University of Eastern Finland in Kuopio. “Golf is a great way to exercise, as it motivates individuals to move, often without even realizing the distance they've walked during the game.”
For the study, investigators compared the heart health effects of an 18-hole round of golf to about 3.7 miles of Nordic walking or walking among 25 healthy golfers aged 65 or older. The researchers measured blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol. Participants also wore heart monitors and fitness devices to track distance, duration, pace, steps and calories burned.
All three types of aerobic exercise improved heart health after a single session, but golf took the top prize, the study showed.
Golf is a lower-intensity exercise than Nordic walking and walking, but an 18-hole golf game lasts around four hours, and players may walk up to six miles during a game. As a result, golfers burn more calories, which has a greater effect on cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
“Playing golf by walking is a form of proper health exercise and can be recommended for healthy older adults as a means to prevent cardiovascular diseases and improve [heart] health for those already suffering from [heart disease],” said Kettinen.
Still, golf isn't accessible to everyone, and walking and Nordic walking also produce powerful health benefits.
“These age-appropriate aerobic exercises can be recommended to healthy older adults as a means of enhancing their physical health and preventing cardiovascular diseases, and can also serve as a treatment strategy for improving [heart] health in individuals who already have a cardiovascular disease,” she said.
The study did have its share of limitations, including its small size. In addition, researchers only included golfers. Nordic walking was seen as a new type of exercise for most participants, which may have led to poor technique and decreased the effectiveness of that activity.
The new study was published online Feb. 6 in the journal BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine.
Dr. Andrew Murray is the co-director of the Edinburgh Sport and Exercise Medicine Research Network in Scotland and chief medical officer of the European Tour and Ryder Cup-Europe golf tournaments.
“Golf is a health-enhancing physical activity, and what this study shows is that golf has even more benefits than walking or Nordic walking,” said Murray, who was not involved in the study.
“One of the reasons that golf can be very effective as a medicine is that it is available to persons of all ages,” he said. “Whether you are 3 or 103, playing golf can likely have health benefits, and there are few sports that people can play across the life course.”
Golf also has powerful benefits on mental health and helps people stay connected and engaged with others. Maintaining social connections can help lower a person's chances of developing dementia.
Previous research has found that people older than 80 can take up golf for the first time and enjoy it, Murray said.
Learn more about golf at the American Council on Exercise.
SOURCES: Julia Kettinen, PhD, doctoral researcher, Institute of Biomedicine/ Sports and Exercise Medicine, University of Eastern Finland, Kuopio, Finland; Andrew Murray, PhD candidate, co-director, Edinburgh Sport and Exercise Medicine, Edinburgh, Scotland; BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, Feb. 6, 2023, online