How Golfing Helps Your Health

Turn Your Golf Game Into a Good Workout

Golf is an incredibly popular sport, and for many people, a great source of exercise. At the end of 18 holes, you can not only rack up a good number of steps on your fitness tracker but if carry or pull your clubs, it even counts as a moderate form of exercise, according to Ben Davis, MD, an orthopaedics and sports medicine physician at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital. 

The World Golf Foundation estimates that people who walk an 18-hole golf course cover about five miles and can burn up to 2,000 calories. But while walking, and carrying clubs, is in theory a form of cardiovascular activity, movement must be sustained for at least 20 minutes straight to count as true cardiovascular exercise, Dr. Davis explained. Therefore, the breaks at each hole are going to keep a day on the course from counting toward your two to three cardiovascular workouts for the week.

Moreover, most golfers cover the course with motorized carts – some private clubs even require it. While golfing with a cart can also contribute some steps for those counting, the activity requires only slightly more effort per minute than shuffleboard and less than recreation swimming, hiking or moderate stationary biking.  

Some sources may also overstate the strength-training component of golf. Practicing shots requires roughly the same amount of effort as tai chi and while walking hills may work leg muscles and lifting your bag may require upper body strength, as a whole, golf cannot be considered as a stand-alone strength-training workout.

The bottom line is that golf is still a predominately healthy activity. Walking is almost always good for you and any time you’re outside and making the more active choice, it’s going to benefit your health. However, it’s important to stress that golf is no substitute for the sustained 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise that, when practiced three to four times a week, has been shown to reduce risk of heart disease, stroke, bone disease and arthritis. 

Golfers can also make other choices during their game to make the sport healthier.

“Remember to avoid alcohol and keep hydrated by drinking lots of water before and during your game,” Dr. Davis said. “If you’re stopping for lunch at the ninth hole, eat a high protein meal that includes fruits and vegetables and skip the double cheeseburger. By making smart drink and food choices, you’ll feel better at the end of the game regardless of your scorecard.”

Intangible Advantages

Arguably the most significant health benefits of golfing will come in the form of mental and emotional health. The game does require a certain degree of concentration and memory, which can ‘work out’ your brain and may help with degeneration. Furthermore, many golfers profess to the calming effects of a day on the course – spending time outside, breathing fresh air and enjoying a few hours with friends and family. Social activity is also correlated with strong emotional health, as is time outside in natural light – just remember to apply and reapply sunscreen.

Workouts That Are Good for Your Game

Golfers are just as much the athletes as other pros, it’s only that their workouts occur off the playing field. For golfers, fitness impacts the game far more than playing the game affects fitness. The exercise you do the rest of the week – those three to five workouts – can have real effects on the course.

Golf workouts work backward from what the sport works on the course. A round of golf can benefit balance, utilizes upper and lower body strength and involves walking – nothing to the degree of exercise, but all those aspects are still in play. Focusing on balance, flexibility and strength training for the muscles used in your swing is key for golfers. Good golf exercises will likely work on your ability to separate upper and lower body strength, core stability, develop shoulder and hip flexibility and strengthen glutes. There are various programs available online through golf clubs, but a personal trainer or sports medicine physician may also be able to help develop an exercise routine that works for you.

So don’t cancel your tee time. Just because golf is not the fitness hack some profess it to be doesn’t make it any less the healthy activity it is. Rather than think of golf as your workout, approach it as your relaxing off day – and enjoy when the gym pays off on your handicap.

Benjamin J. Davis, MD
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