By Mark Stibich, PhD, Special to Lone Star Golf
It sounds too good to be true, but playing a round of golf can add years to your life. Why? Think about it: A round of golf takes about 5 hours to play. During the entire round, the golfer is outside, walking, taking in the sun and burning calories.
In fact, playing 18 holes of golf burns about 306 calories per hour if you carry your own clubs. If you use a pull-cart for your bag and walk, it can expend 292 calories per hour. Even if you ride in a golf cart to play, you can burn off 238 calories per hour.
Could all of this add up to a longer, healthier life? The research indicates “yes.”
The Swedish Golf Federation has more than 600,000 members. Membership is required for playing almost everywhere in Sweden, so the list contains almost all of the country’s golfers. Sweden also maintains a record of all of the deaths that have occurred there for the past several decades.
Researchers were able to pull information from both databases to study the impact golf may or may not have on mortality. They compared golfers and non-golfers and found that golfers were 40 percent less likely to have died than non-golfers of the same age.
Not only is golf good for your life expectancy, but the more someone plays golf, the greater the increase in their overall health. When golfers’ handicaps were added to the equation, those with the lowest handicaps (better golfers, who, in theory, play more often) had greater reductions in their risk of death.
It could be that the increase in exercise for golfers explains the effect that researchers saw. Unfortunately, the analysis could not compare the exercise levels of the non-golfers. It’s unknown if the increased exercise explains the benefit of golf. There could be other explanations, including:
• People with certain illnesses and certain health conditions can’t play golf, therefore golfers only include healthy people.
• People who play golf are wealthier on average than people who don’t golf, potentially indicating better health.
• In addition to exercise, there may be stress-relieving benefits related to being outside, as well as social benefits related to golfing with friends and colleagues.
Of course, the exercise benefits to golf are real and known. You can make the most of your golf outing with the following tips:
• Follow a strict, no-cart policy. That means walk, if you can. You’ll burn a lot more calories.
• Carry your clubs. If you are able to, carry your own clubs. You’ll build strength and endurance while burning even more calories.
• Improve your game. The more you golf, the better your chances for increased longevity, according to the study. Work on lowering your GHIN Handicap Index and get out and golf as often as you can.
• Beware of the clubhouse. One false move at the snack bar or 19th hole can erase all the benefits of your round. Beware of beers, hamburgers and other clubhouse junk food that will just put all the calories you burned back into your body.
Mark Stibich, PhD, is the Founder and Chief Scientific Officer of Xenex Healthcare Services, a company that aims to lessen the suffering caused by healthcare-associated infections.