Our Healthy Addiction
By Steve Keipert, Special to Lone Star Golf
For as long as golf has been played, the game
has meant different things to different golfers. While a professional might
brood about a round requiring 75 shots, an everyday hacker might take great
delight in shooting an 18-hole score of 95.
Why the difference? It’s all about the mental
approach. Golf is, ostensibly, a physical sport. There’s as much as seven miles
of walking involved in playing 18 holes, plus the highly tuned action of swinging
a club with a sound technique. Yet the long-held viewpoint on the game is it is
only 10 percent physical and 90 percent mental.
The best professional golfers in the world are
all capable of executing the wide array of shots necessary to compete at the
highest level; what separates them lies in the six inches between their ears.
‘At One’ With Nature
Mentally, golf is beneficial in several key
areas: for social interaction, for exercise, to aid concentration, and to spend
time in nature. That intangible last point cannot be undersold.
A University of Washington study on how
outdoor activities surrounded by nature affect the mind found, among other
things, that “the experience of nature helps to restore the mind from the
mental fatigue of work or studies, contributing to improved work performance
Other findings included how green spaces
provide necessary opportunities for physical activity, as exercise improves
cognitive function, learning, and memory. Also, this salient point: “Outdoor
activities can help alleviate symptoms of Alzheimer’s, dementia, stress, and
depression, and improve cognitive function in those recently diagnosed with
Golf helps mentally in other
ways, too. Rocker Alice Cooper turned to golf to overcome his various
addictions and, in turn, found another, far healthier one. Playing as many as
36 holes a day created a welcome distraction for the “Godfather of Shock Rock,”
whose game became so good, at one point he was only a breath behind playing at
a pro level. “Some people turn to God, I turned to golf,” Cooper famously
Post-traumatic stress disorder
is a mental ailment commonly associated with returned armed forces personnel.
Seeing the benefits of introducing sufferers to the golf course, the
Professional Golfers Association of America has partnered with doctors and
therapists in recent years to use the sport as a remedy. And the upsides are
“Since implementing the game of
golf into our programs, I’ve observed that some of the participants still
desire to continue playing the game and developing their skill,” says
recreation therapist Penny Miller. “Golf is used as a therapeutic treatment
modality, to help patients restore, remediate, and rehabilitate to improve
functioning and independence in life activities, as well as to help the
patients integrate back into society.”
“We see patients presenting
symptoms of their medical conditions to include: insomnia, lack of
concentration, anxiety, and inability to form social relationships. The golf
clinics that have been implemented over the past two years have involved about
30 patients. Golf is used as a vehicle to support patients psychosocially.”
“One of my concerns is that
people say that this is just golf,” adds neuropsychologist Dr. Michael Hall.
“It is not just golf, it is more than golf. Golf is a venue again to create a
positive environment, positive experiences. Sometimes that is the only time I
see that emotion. Granted, I am focused on problem areas, but it’s a big deal.
It’s not something that should be dismissed because it’s golf.”
In much the same vein, “Jim” is
a golfer who goes by the poignant online name of “The Grateful Golfer” after
launching a blog that played a role in assisting him to overcome cancer. He did
so by focusing on improving his mental strength and “the positive aspects of
golf, interacting with like-minded golfing fanatics, and to have a constructive
exchange about all things golf.”
“Golf has helped me focus on
the four pillars of wellness: healthy eating, moderate exercise, stress relief,
and good quality sleep,” he writes.
The physical elements of
playing 18 holes should not be glossed over. Golf works your gluteus maximus
(butt), the pectoralis major (chest), latissimus dorsi (back), forearms, and
core muscles. Plus, golf is one of the least injury-prone sports people play.
A study conducted by Neil
Wolkodoff, the director of the Rose Center for Health and Sports Sciences in
Colorado, ascertained that walking for a full round while carrying a golf bag
burns 1,442 calories. Conversely, riding in a cart nearly halves that figure
(822). Walking with a push cart burns 1,436 calories; walking with a caddie
carrying the bag still eats away 1,226.
study added that burning 2,500 calories per week – so, less than two full
rounds of golf played while walking – can greatly reduce the risk of heart
disease, diabetes, and cancer. Yet perhaps the best news came from a Swedish
study conducted by the Karolinska Institute, which found golfers enjoyed a 40
percent lower death rate when accounting for other factors such as age, gender,
and socioeconomic status. The Swedes determined the golf factor alone
contributed to an extra five years of life expectancy.
light-hearted and time-honored maxim tells us that golf is like sex in that you
don’t have to be particularly good at either activity to enjoy it. However,
it’s beneficial to know that a round of golf is as beneficial for your head and
soul as it is for your body.