Hit the links: Playing golf just once a month may lower risk of death in older adults

COLUMBIA, Mo. — Regular golfers rarely need another excuse to tee off, but a new study conducted at the University of Missouri is providing a major health incentive to pick up the putter. Researchers say that going for a round of golf at least once per month can lower an older adult’s overall risk of death.

While the study’s authors weren’t been able to definitively link playing golf to heart health benefits, they believe the exercise and social interaction provided by golf are only going to benefit older adults who may not be able to participate in more strenuous sports or physical activities.

Golf is already a wildly popular sport among older adults, with an estimated 25 million consistent players in the United States alone. Moreover, many say playing golf is a major stress reliever.

“Our study is perhaps the first of its kind to evaluate the long-term health benefits of golf, particularly one of the most popular sports among older people in many countries,” says Dr. Adnan Qureshi, lead author of the study and a professor of neurology at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri, in a statement. “The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans does not yet include golf in the list of recommended physical activities. Therefore, we are hopeful our research findings could help to expand the options for adults to include golf.”

To come to their conclusions, the research team analyzed data originally collected during the Cardiovascular Health Study, a population-based observational project that tracked heart disease and stroke in nearly 5,900 adults over the age of 65 between 1989 and 1999. Each participant underwent extensive health exams every six months over the course of the 10-year project. Subjects were also periodically contacted via phone and surveyed on any heart-related health incidents.

For the purposes of the research, individuals who played golf at least once per month were considered regular golfers.

Among all the participants, 384 regular golfers were initially identified. Over the course of the research, 8.1% of those golfers suffered a stroke, and 9.8% had a heart attack. Regarding overall death rates, regular golfers had a significantly lower (15.1%) rate of death in comparison to non-golfers (24.6%).

“While walking and low intensity jogging may be comparable exercise, they lack the competitive excitement of golf,” Qureshi comments. “Regular exercise, exposure to a less polluted environment and social interactions provided by golf are all positive for health. Another positive is that older adults can continue to play golf, unlike other more strenuous sports such as football, boxing and tennis. Additional positive aspects are stress relief and relaxation, which golf appears better suited for than other sports.”

The research team are now performing additional work aimed at determining which specific health conditions can be improved from playing golf.

This research is set to be presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2020 in Los Angeles.

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