Why Playing Golf is Good for Your Health

GolfA round of golf means being outside for four or five hours and briskly walking several miles in the great outdoors over rolling terrain. All while building core strength with every swing and by carrying or at least pulling a weighty set of clubs and along the way. Throw in some invigorating conversations with a foursome of friends or family, and you have a recipe for a beneficial activity that improves both physical and mental health, experts agree.

“If you walk, it’s five miles over 18 holes, and that alone has untold health benefits,” said John Gehman, owner of Butter Valley Golf Course in Barto. “But maybe even more than the physical side is the mental side of golf. When you’re really focusing on your game, it’s 90 percent mental.”

People play golf up until an advanced age, and Gehman said many of his customers are seniors, some well into the 80s.

“Everyone who golfs here gets a good workout and burns calories,” he added. “The course, which opened in 1969, traverses former farmland and provides a very scenic but challenging terrain.

“The scenery alone with keep your mind off any stress and keep you limber,” Gehman added. “There was a Swedish study a few years back that concluded golfers live five years longer than non-golfers.”

John Hauth, senior director of sports medicine relationships at St. Luke’s University Health Network, agreed that the health benefits of golf are endless. “I picked up golf when I was in graduate school and have stayed with it for 35 years,” said Hauth, who taught golf when he was on the faculty at East Stroudsburg University. “There’s the sport aspect of golf, how to swing a club and refine that movement, but there are many other benefits – the positive psychological and social stimulation that you gain from playing. That’s always been my focus.”

Even for those who ride in a cart, golf still provides a significant amount of beneficial activity. “I’ve always been a walker, and as we get older and less active walking – something we may take for granted – can become more challenging,” Hauth said. “But even with nine or 18 holes climbing in and out of a cart provides some exercise and opportunities to walk. You might not get all the steps you need, but there are definitely benefits even if you decide to ride.”

John Graham, senior director of fitness and sports performance at St. Luke’s, said his dad, 85, and mom, 78, look to golf as a social outlet. The weekly spot on the calendar gives them a positive sense of anticipation. “It’s something they really look forward to, and it keeps them motivated and wanting to do things on a weekly schedule,” he said, adding that golf can help seniors avoid secluded lives. “It also keeps them active by walking 4-5 miles in a round of golf, and improving a swing and moving helps build core strength and overall fitness. I always remind golfers I work with about those benefits.”

A vigorous round of golf can also burn up to 1,000 calories, get the heart pumping and increase blood flow for good cardiovascular health, strengthen bones, improve motor and cognitive skills and lead to a restorative good night’s sleep after a day in the fresh air in a serene setting. “And you also get vitamin D from sunshine, which you’ll get even if you play in the winter months, not to mention the weight bearing side of golf with carrying clubs, Graham added.

Graham, who coordinates the golf center at St. Luke’s West End Medical Center in Allentown, said training equipment is available to help golfers improve their rotational pattern in their backs and he advises on exercises and stretches to stay in shape and avoid shoulder, arm and wrist injuries.

“Golf is an explosive sport,” he said. “There’s speed of movement with the rotation involved in a swing. Every swing needs to be controlled to generate force. The muscle fibers controlling those explosive movements are regenerated, too.”

Jackie Bolig, membership coordinator at St. Luke’s Fitness & Sports Center, plays golf with her husband regularly and finds the entire package of exercise, psychological and social a beneficial and enjoyable part of her schedule. “It’s important as people age,” she said. “Social connections are so important. I’ve played with people in their 90s. Golf is an important part of their lives. It makes them feel successful and helps maintain their independence.”

Golf can be picked up at any age, but Graham said the younger you start, the longer you have to refine the skills needed for a satisfying round of golf and get them firmly implanted in your muscle memory. “The great thing about golf is that you can start anytime and enjoy it for life,” he said. “Additionally, it’s therapeutic and helps you to avoid injuries and build endurance.” People who suffered strokes or have Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis are finding that golf can help them manage their condition, Graham noted. “We advocate using a golf swing as a therapy to help neuromuscular conditions,” he said. “There’s more to golf than just the competitive and strategic side.”

Back at Butter Valley Golf Course, Gehman mentions another health benefit that comes from golf.

“Golf courses are protectors of the environment,” he said. “There’s nothing better than well-maintained turf and well-managed soil chemistry to filter rainwater and control runoff.” Trained and licensed for limited use of pesticides and fertilizers, Gehman said a properly operated golf course reduces stress on the environment. “We use chemicals but only as needed,” he said. “Not much is needed when you’re doing it right.”

In an area rich in dairy land, he said he respects the farms and bucolic landscape that surround his golf course. “By maintaining healthy soil and turf, the plants and habitats are healthy, too, and can weather more stress during times of drought,” Gehman said. “Golf is really the perfect tonic for a healthy environment and a healthy, active lifestyle.”

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