An older woman hits a tee shot at the golf course while two other women watchShare on Pinterest
Experts say being outside and socializing with others are two of the benefits of playing golf. Sergio Marcos/Stocksy
  • Researchers say older adults can get physical as well as mental health benefits from golfing.
  • Experts say a person who plays 18 holes of golf can end up walking more than 6 miles.
  • They add that golf provides an opportunity to socialize as well as collect vitamin D from the sun.

The phrase “Golf is a good walk spoiled” was doubtlessly made by a bad golfer.

But even they could probably admit it was a good walk.

According to a team of researchers from Finland, golf is a good walk and then some.

In fact, the researchers report in a study published today that golf may be better for older adults than Nordic walking or regular walking.

It’s been documented that regular aerobic exercise helps prevent cardiovascular diseases as well as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and dyslipidemia (an abnormal amount of lipids in the blood causing problems like high blood pressure).

But most of that evidence comes from studies focused on younger people participating in “acute bouts of exercise lasting 30 to 60 minutes at moderate to high intensity,” the researchers said in a statement.

There’s been less research on the impact of activities such as golf on older people, the team said.

The researchers looked at golf, walking, and Nordic walking – an enhanced walking technique during which people use poles to work their upper body as well as their legs.

All are popular age-appropriate forms of outdoor aerobic exercise that are considered safe and easily accessible for many older people.

The team compared the acute effects of the three different types of aerobic exercises on markers of cardiometabolic health in terms of intensity, duration, and energy expenditure.

Their study looked at 25 healthy older golfers, aged 65 and above. They compared the effects of three acute aerobic exercises — an 18-hole round of golf, 6 kilometers of Nordic walking, and a 6-kilometer walk — on their subjects’ blood pressure, blood glucose, and blood lipid profile in a real-life environment.

The researchers measured participants’ blood pressure and took blood samples and blood glucose finger-prick tests. The subjects also wore fitness measuring devices to monitor exercise-specific distance, duration, pace, energy expenditure, and steps, as well as wearing an ECG sensor to measure their heart rate.

The researchers reported that all three types of aerobic exercise improved the older adults’ cardiovascular profile when performed in acute bouts, despite differences in duration and intensity.

Lowering their systolic blood pressure while walking and Nordic walking also led to a decrease in diastolic blood pressure.

However, even though golf had a lower exercise intensity compared to Nordic walking and walking, the longer duration and higher total energy expenditure involved in playing golf positively affected lipid profile and glucose metabolism, the researchers said.

The study did have some limitations such as the small sample size and the accuracy of the fitness devices. In addition, carrying out a study in a real-life environment doesn’t allow all factors to be controlled as they would be in a laboratory setting.

Researchers also only recruited golfers for the study, believing non-golfers couldn’t be expected to play a round of golf properly, while Nordic walking was seen as a new type of exercise for most participants, which could’ve led to poor technique decreasing the activity’s effectiveness.

But the authors concluded: “Despite the lower exercise intensity of golf, the longer duration and higher energy expenditure appeared to have a more positive effect on lipid profile and glucose metabolism compared with Nordic walking and walking.”

“These age-appropriate aerobic exercises can be recommended to healthy older adults as a form of health-enhancing physical activity to prevent cardiovascular diseases and can also be used as a treatment strategy to improve cardiometabolic health among those who already have a cardiovascular disease.”

Fitness experts say the benefits of golf go beyond just getting in a good walk.

Walter Lis, the managing editor of golf publication Chicago Golf Report, told Healthline that a 2018 study reported that the average distance walked on a golf course with a playing length of 6,800 yards is 6.6 miles.

“On many golf courses, that distance also requires climbing hills, entering and exiting sand bunkers, as well as navigating various types of rough and uneven terrain,” Lis said.

“In addition to the cardiovascular benefit of walking six-plus miles, the golf swing requires flexibility, stability, strength, and exquisite hand-eye coordination,” Lis noted. “Because the golf swing requires multiple weight shifts, often on uneven or side hill lies, the swing itself promotes improved balance and flexibility.”

Golfers also get vitamin D from being outdoors and the benefit of being a social sport, Lis said.

“Increased socialization is a major factor in the popularity of golf,” Lis said. “A round of golf is usually played with up to four golfers in a group. The interaction with playing partners, along with the inherent social distancing, was a significant reason why golf has enjoyed a major increase in participation since the start of the pandemic.”

Hannah Shine is a certified personal trainer and a health coach in Australia. She told Healthline golf has positive mental benefits.

“Golf can have a variety of physical and mental benefits for seniors, including improved cardiovascular fitness, increased strength and flexibility, and better balance and coordination,” Shine said. “There’s also stress relief, improved cognitive function, and social interaction.”

Shine noted that there also can be limitations for some seniors.

“It can be physically demanding, particularly for those with mobility issues,” she said. “There’s a risk of injury, especially to the back, elbow, and wrist. It can also be frustrating for those with limited mobility or hand-eye coordination.”

Shine said golf is beneficial as long as a person approaches it the right way.

“Overall, golf can be a great form of exercise and mental stimulation for seniors, as long as it’s approached with caution and in a way that works for each individual,” she said.