New Evidence Indicates Golf Improves Muscle Strength and Balance

A new study has found that golf can provide significant health benefits to older participants. Picture by The R&A.

St Andrews, Scotland: An international research study backed by The R&A has found new evidence to suggest golf can provide significant health benefits to older participants in the form of improved muscle strength and balance. 

Muscle strength and balance exercises form an important part of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended guidelines to tackle physical inactivity in older people about which little was previously known for golf. 

The Strength and Balance Study, carried out with two sample groups over two years by Professor Maria Stokes OBE at the University of Southampton, and Dr George Salem at the University of Southern California (USC), has indicated that older golfers have and develop strength and balance benefits.

Underlining the sport’s capability to improve the physical health of participants, the evidence suggests golf can improve quality of life through muscle strengthening, improved balance, aerobic exercise (equivalent to gym-based work or yoga) and social interaction. 

The Southampton group involved 152 individuals aged 65-79 and over 80 and set out to demonstrate the physical and psychosocial benefits associated with playing recreational golf regularly by comparing physical measures between older golfers and sedentary non-golfers. 

A study at the USC was undertaken to see if non-golfers developed these benefits while undertaking a 10-week instructional golf training programme. The USC group involved 15 individuals aged 63 (+/- 5 years) at a municipal course in the greater Los Angeles area, which also examined the feasibility, safety and adherence of the programme for senior non-golfers.

The combined findings show that: 

  • Participants in the golf training programme improved their muscular strength, power, endurance, balance, flexibility and walking performance.
  • Golfers under the age of 80 had better strength and balance than sedentary non-golfers of similar ages.
  • Golfers had better dynamic balance and static balance than non-golfers.
  • Strength of limb muscles and balance were better in golfers than non-golfers, eg. indicative through gripping and swinging a club, walking, squatting.
  • The golf training programme was feasible and effective; novice golfers were able to play nine holes of golf by the 10th week and completed 282 of 300 (94%) total training sessions.
  • The physical demands recorded during a golf round were equivalent or greater than the demands for other common activities, such as gym work or yoga.
  • Participants benefited from green space, social interaction and walking over hilly terrain.
  • The programme was safe; there were no golf-related injuries or adverse events.

Martin Slumbers.

Ahead of the study being peer reviewed to validate findings and future presentations made to the academic world, Professor Stokes said: “The findings indicate that golf is associated with health benefits related to better muscle strength and balance. 

“This suggests golf may meet World Health Organisation recommendations for older people, which would potentially qualify golf for social prescription and exercise referral schemes among policy makers to help manage health conditions.”

Dr Salem added: “Our findings suggest that golf should be considered when prescribing exercise for older adults because it appears to be safe, feasible and an adherent form of exercise for a better, healthier quality of life. 

“Moreover, as golf is an exercise activity that includes strengthening, power, balance, endurance and cognitive challenges, it satisfies the recommended physical activity guidelines of the World Health Organisation, the American College of Sports Medicine and United Kingdom guidelines.” 

Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A, said: “These findings should encourage policy makers and healthcare professionals to consider recommending playing golf to older people as part of encouraging them to adopt a more active lifestyle, as well as tackling physical inactivity to reduce healthcare costs.  

“We are seeing more and more evidence that golf can provide significant physical and mental health benefits for participants as a moderate intensity activity and so we will continue to advocate these in all of our work with golfers, national federations and associations, healthcare professionals and policy makers.”  

Since 2016, The R&A and its partners, including the World Golf Foundation (WGF), the United States Golf Association (USGA) and the European Tour, have sought to: raise awareness of the health benefits of golf to encourage interest in participation by people of all ages and abilities; improve the sport’s image; and increase advocacy for golf by government agencies and public health bodies. 

The Golf & Health Project, supported by The R&A and the other WGF partners, continues to strive to achieve these aims by producing and publishing high quality science that evidences golf’s physical and mental health benefits to target existing golfers, non-golfers, golf bodies and policy makers in government and health. 

Dr Roger Hawkes, Executive Director at the Golf & Health Project, added: “The evidence from this study is indicative that golf helps strength and balance, with no previous research to highlight this to the golf industry until now. The overall findings and benefits should be of great value for golfers and non-golfers going forward.” 

The R&A has also published a new golf and health report to help further educate golfers, non-golfers, national federations and policy makers on the physical and mental health benefits of the sport.

Highlighting The R&A’s work and the endeavours of others in this sphere since 2016, the 28-page document provides a comprehensive overview of golf as a health-enhancing activity for people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds, with the Strength and Balance Study featured.

The R&A Golf and Health Report (2016-20) can be viewed here.

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