Forget walking: Playing golf even healthier for older adults than trendy Nordic aerobic exercise

KUOPIO, Finland —Walking may be an easy way for older adults to stay healthy, but a new study finds playing golf may be an even better idea. Researchers from the University of Eastern Finland hitting the links is actually better exercise than the trendy habit of “Nordic walking.”

Their findings, published in the journal BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, show that people over the age of 65 can gain more health benefits from playing golf than those who regularly walk with poles — to work the upper body as well as their legs. Studies continue to document the health advantages of physical exercise in helping to prevent a heart attack or stroke, as well as staving off high blood pressure, diabetes, and dyslipidemia — an abnormal amount of fats in the blood which can cause high cholesterol.

The team notes, however, that most studies tend to focus on relatively younger people participating in bouts of exercise that last 30 to 60 minutes at moderate-to-high intensity. Golf, walking, and Nordic walking are all popular forms of outdoor exercise which are also safe and easily accessible to many older people.

The researchers in Finland set out to compare the impact of all three different types of aerobic exercises on markers of cardiometabolic health in terms of intensity, duration, and energy expenditure. The study followed 25 healthy golfers 65 and older, comparing the impact of an 18-hole round of golf, walking for 3.7 miles, or Nordic walking over the same distance on their blood pressure, blood glucose, and blood lipid profile.

The team also took blood samples, blood glucose finger-prick tests, and measured each participant’s blood pressure. Additionally, the golfers wore fitness-measuring devices to log exercise-specific distance, duration, pace, energy expenditure, and steps. The participants also wore an ECG sensor with a chest strap to record their heart rate.

According to study author Julia Kettinen, the results show that all three types of aerobic exercise improve the cardiovascular profile among older adults. This benefit comes despite the differences in each activity’s duration and intensity. The three exercises lowered the group’s systolic blood pressure, while walking and Nordic walking also led to a decrease in diastolic blood pressure.

However, despite the participants engaging in a less intense exercise out on the golf course, it was the longer duration and higher total energy expenditure involved in playing golf that seems to positively affect lipid profile and glucose metabolism.

The team notes that this study is limited by the number of participants involved and potential for inaccurate results from the fitness trackers. Some of the participants were also trying Nordic walking for the first time, which may have led to them using a poor technique.

“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,” study authors say in a media release.

“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.”

South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.

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