4 Ways Playing Golf Can Extend Your Life

A few of the many reasons why golf is a great sport for the mind and body.

Medically reviewed in August 2020

The green vistas of a golf course, whether it’s public or private, are good for your soul and your heart. Playing the game, it turns out, can also extend your life. A team of researchers from the prestigious Karolinska Institute concluded in a study of 300,000 Swedish golfers that playing golf cut their death rate by a huge 40 percent—equivalent to a five-year increase in life expectancy. Here are just a few of the many reasons why golf is a great sport for the mind and body.

A Challenging Walk
An 18-hole course is a serious stroll, so those who walk get the most benefit. An October, 2016 study from a University of Edinburgh team, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found that you might walk four to eight miles–or between 11,000 and nearly 17,000 steps during a game. That’s better than the 10,000-step goal you’ll see as standard on a Fitbit. If you’re already fit, golf won’t count as an aerobic exercise. But if you’ve been spending too much time on the couch, golf is a good way to start moving. You’ll be walking up and down hills, and on sand or pebbly uneven surfaces that will challenge your balance.

Builds Trust
The game’s undulating journey allows for conversation and fosters trust. That’s why we see political leaders and business titans negotiating on golf courses. You must take turns. The most competitive player in the world still must wait while the other player swings. Everyone runs into trouble, and even for the best golfers the game can be a humbling experience. As you triumph and curse, you bond. “It is hard to dislike a man once you have played a round of golf with him,” the late novelist John Updike commented in Golf Digest. Social connections boost health and make life more fun. Just be sure to exercise caution when you celebrate the end of your round at a nearby restaurant. Make sure to stay focused on your health when you order food and drinks.

Focuses the Mind
Playing well requires a Zen-like focus. You must be completely present for each swing. Updike famously waxed rhapsodic about the mental benefits of his favorite sport. Golf, he wrote, “directs us to find within ourselves a pivotal center of enjoyment: relax into a rhythm that fits the hills and swales, and play the shot at hand—not the last one, or the next one, but the one at your feet, in the poison ivy, where you put it.” And when you’re not standing in poison ivy, remember that it’s not just the walking and the game, but the serene view that keeps you healthy. A January 2016 research review published in Environment International found that people who live near “green spaces” are less likely to die of heart disease.

The Better Your Game, the More You Benefit
In the Swedish study, the better players enjoyed the most longevity. You’ll need strong muscles to boost your scores. Golf swings challenge both the lower and upper body. To strengthen your legs, do squats, cycle or take the stairs two steps at a time.

New players find their arms, legs and even grip strength tanking on the last holes. To build stamina in your arms specifically for golf, use light weights with more repetitions. This will train your muscles to endure the repetitive nature of golf. A healthy swing also requires flexibility through the hips, back and shoulders. Many yoga postures open up the hip flexors and twist the trunk.

Even if you have to ride a cart, playing golf is far better for your body and mind than staying indoors on the couch.

Wondering why exercise leads to a longer, healthier life? It has to do with something called telomeres. Learn more in Exercise Can Extend Your Life.

This content was originally published on Ornish Living.

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