Millions of golfers each week use their routine trip to the course as an avenue for getting their exercise. Studies have shown that walking 18 holes can burn thousands of calories, and there are added health benefits for the average weekend warrior.
For golfers of any age, especially the over 50 crowd, here are a few science-based reasons to keep a regular tee time.
1. Golfers with knee osteoarthritis can find relief by walking the course
Just over 36% off all U.S. golfers — roughly 17 million people — are 50 years of age or older. Arthritis is one of the most significant ailments suffered by golfers in this age range, especially osteoarthritis in the knee.
A debilitating condition like osteoarthritis can give golf lovers a serious pause. Even if they play, most don’t stray far from the cart. But a recent study by the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab and Northwestern Medicine discovered that golfers with osteoarthritis experience many long-term benefits by walking the course. This benefit is multiplied if you’re wearing high-quality golf shoes. Walking a round limits inflammation, and should not increase pain or accelerate cartilage breakdown in the knee.
The study further compared the heart rate when riding in a golf cart versus walking. Lead study author Dr. Prakash Jayabalan and his team found that walking put the golfer’s heart rate in the moderate intensity range for around 60% of the round, compared to a 30% rate when riding. The elevated heart rate is ideal for cardiovascular health and maintaining weekly exercise minimums recommended by experts.
2. Golfers can lose roughly 2.5 pounds over 18 holes
According to a study by Dr. Greg Wells of the Canadian Sport Centre’s National Coaching Institute, golfers lose roughly 2.5 pounds in an 18-hole round. Every time you hit a swing, you’re burning calories. The weight loss comes through a caloric expenditure that registers between 2000-2500 calories.
Since calories are a measure of energy, this loss of weight can cause golfers to struggle with their performance, especially on the back nine. Dr. Wells suggests having a meal around 3-4 hours before playing or practicing. The study notes that this time frame is suggested because it is the typical period needed to digest a meal properly.
Dr. Wells found that the ideal pre-golf meal consists of food that is high in carbohydrates, low in fat and fiber to reduce gastrointestinal discomfort, and moderate in protein. Dr. Wells lists whole wheat spaghetti with tomato and meat sauce, chicken sandwich and soup, and omelets with a side of toast as optimal meals for fueling performance.
During a round, Dr. Wells found that it’s wise to keep your energy steady through low sugar foods. Snacks such as fresh fruit, nuts, and yogurt will maintain your glycogen levels, leaving the body plenty to burn during your round.
3. Golf can add years to your life
Especially for older golfers, the sport can add years to your life. In a 2008 study by the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet, over 300,000 Swedish golfers were studied to find golf’s ultimate effect on their overall health.
Professor Anders Ahlbom, who led the study, found that golfers lowered their death rate by over 40% compared to Swedish citizens who did not play the sport. Ahlbom and his team found that golfers in the study lived on average five extra years.
“A round of golf means being outside for four or five hours, walking at a fast pace for six to seven kilometers, something which is known to be good for the health,” Ahlbom said. “People play golf into old age, and there are also positive social and psychological aspects to the game that can be of help.”
The study also concluded that golfers with low handicaps were helped the most from playing golf. This health benefit is likely because low scoring golfers typically play more golf. “Maintaining a low handicap involves playing a lot, so this supports the idea that it is largely the game itself that is good for the health,” said Professor Ahlbom.
Jordan Fuller is a golf mentor who also owns the golf publication Golf Influence, where he shares his tips for better play. Back when he was a kid, his enthusiasm led him to curiosity, and later on, he became a coach.