Yes Racquetball, Paddle Tennis, Swimming and more exist, but is there a sport better accepting of older adults than golf? Due to the implementation of handicaps to the game in 1911, golf is one of the only sports that doesn’t penalize your game the older you get. Additionally, the community involved in the sport along with the health benefits of the game, creates an atmosphere ideal for seniors and older adults.
Although if you asked most of the folks who golf what the reason behind them playing is, they would answer “for fun”, what they may not realize is that golf has a plethora of health benefits as well. Sure, finding that sweet spot between the club head and the ball and watching that little white sphere take off, straight as an arrow, towards the peskily evasive flag feels great, but maybe it feels great for reasons other than the fact you finally didn’t slice it.
See even if you take a cart to play 18 holes, you are still taking over 7,000 steps on average. Decide to walk? Congratulations, you just walked 4 miles and didn’t even bat an eye. From a caloric standpoint, that’s 850 to 1,400 calories burned depending on if you rode or walked. As an older adult, we recognize the importance of walking, as it’s one of the best ways to stay active despite increasing health and physical limitations. Walking assists in physical aspects such as cardiovascular function and endurance, in turn decreasing things like fall risk, as well as mental aspects such as memory improvements. Throw a golf club in your hand and start swinging it while you walk, now you’re building muscle and encouraging rotational movement as well. The golf swing targets muscles in your core, strengthening the lower back and reducing pain in that area.
Speaking of pain, it is unfortunately one side effect of golf. No, not physical pain. I’m talking about the type of pain that makes you want to throw your entire golf set into the creek along hole 9. I’m talking about the type of pain that only one who has shanked four shots in a row, starting from the tee, can relate to. I’m talking about the type of pain that sends you to the clubhouse early for a Bloody Mary and makes you contemplate why you ever picked up this stupid game. So what it’s only 11 AM? I’m a paying member aren’t I? Yes, the great game of golf. The game described so eloquently by the great Bobby Jones as the game “mainly played on a five-and-a-half-inch course, the space between your ears”. So why tell you about the mental frustrations of golf if I’m trying to sell you on it? Well, believe it or not there are upsides.
Golf is a game of focus and precise mental calculations. Some may think it’s simply hitting a ball and chasing it down the fairway, but in reality there are a multitude of factors, such as ball location, grass depth, wind direction, green speeds and slope. The type of strategic thinking required to play well in golf is great for brain health and similar to the type of frontal lobe stimulation you get from doing things like crosswords and brain teasers. It’s also been proven that golf releases levels of endorphins (the “feel good” hormone) in your brain, subsequently producing a favorable mood and a better overall sense of well being. And, regarding those painful mental frustrations I was talking about before, well learning how to be patient and control those frustrations is a big part of the game. Once you learn how to do that, not only will you play better, but it will translate out of golf and into real-world scenarios. Soon you’ll be sinking more puts, being patient at the DMV, and releasing more endorphins! So, not only is the game helpful for your lower body, but also for the guy upstairs.
Lastly, golf is, above all, a social game. Sure you can strive for Tiger and go out to hit 1,000 range balls a day, but if you’re not the 0.01% of people that does that, then you’ll appreciate golf for the amazing community it attracts. Getting older can make it difficult to stay connected with friends and exit the house as much. Golf provides a welcoming environment where everyone is happy to be out there socializing with friends, new and old. It also creates a healthy and fun routine, giving you something to look forward to every week. Mental stimulation outside of the home with other like-minded individuals is crucial to your personal health. It can reduce depression and create a much needed sense of belonging. And don’t be nervous if you’re a beginner. Golf handicaps are there so that more skilled golfers can golf with less advanced friends and still finish with competitive scores. Additionally, different degree clubs and distanced tee boxes are there so that as you get older and your strength decreases, you can still play at a pace and level similar to what you would’ve played decades ago!
All in all, there’s a reason golf is so popular with older adults. If you’re new but interested in the game, talk to a doctor about your physical abilities and heed their recommendations. Also, talk to friends who are already golfers and listen to their perspectives on the game and its advantages. But mostly, just bite the bullet and get out there! Once you do you will see why there are so many senior golfers.