The health case for golf: the sport ‘adds years to your life’

    10 October 2016

    Playing golf can increase life expectancy, prevent diseases and improve mental health, according to an article published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

    The researchers, from the University of Edinburgh, looked at 5,000 studies on golf and health. They found that the sport had physical and mental health benefits for people of all ages and genders; it is likely to improve cardiovascular, respiratory and metabolic health and can help to prevent chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes, colon and breast cancer and stroke.

    It was also found that the benefits of playing golf increase with age, as the sport improves balance and muscle endurance.

    The benefits are brought about by the exercise involved, which burns a minimum of 500 calories over 18 holes. Increased exposure to sunshine and fresh air are also said to be contributory factors.

    The article cited two studies that found an association between golf playing and reduced mortality rates. One paper, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, found a 40 per cent reduction in mortality rates among 300,000 or so members of the Swedish Golf Federation, corresponding to an increase in life expectancy of about five years.

    Dr Andrew Murray, the study’s lead researcher, said: ‘We know that the moderate physical activity that golf provides increases life expectancy, has mental health benefits, and can help prevent and treat more than 40 major chronic diseases such as heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, breast and colon cancer.

    ‘Evidence suggests golfers live longer than non-golfers, enjoying improvements in cholesterol levels, body composition, wellness, self-esteem and self-worth. Given that the sport can be played by the very young to the very old, this demonstrates a wide variety of health benefits for people of all ages.’

    The paper also listed the risks of playing golf. Among these are lightning strikes and golf cart-related accidents. Golf is reported to be the sport with the highest incidence of lightning strikes in the US, while the US National Safety Council, the paper notes, reports over 15,000 golf cart-related injuries a year, though these are not all related to golf.

    Instant analysis
    A timely, fascinating and essential review — perhaps golf enthusiasts are on to something after all.

    Golf is a relaxing pastime with no obvious physical exertion involved. The fact that it has so many benefits, akin to other more strenuous pursuits, is a revelation.

    This is a review article, so definitive therapeutic claims cannot be made, given the variety of study designs included.

    The bottom line: physical activity is something everyone at all ages should endeavour to undertake. Most sports have risks of injury but the benefits far outweigh them.
    Research score: N/A