Golf "improves mental health" says expert

Golf And Health Story

A leading psychologist has championed the role golf can play in reducing stress and supporting good mental health.

Professor Jenny Roe, environmental psychologist and Director of the Centre for Design & Health at the University of Virginia, says golf is one way of benefiting from a regular ‘dose’ of green space to boost psychological wellbeing and physical health.

“There’s a wealth of evidence, using robust, scientific methods, to show the benefits of ‘green exercise’ – exercise in the natural outdoors – compared to exercise indoors, including the gym,” said Prof Roe.

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“When you step into a green space, there’s a number of things that happen with both your physiology and your psychology. Your parasympathetic nervous system kicks in – the system that’s associated with relaxation – and your stress physiology actually changes. You literally manage stress more efficiently when you are in a green space.”

Prof. Roe’s insights appear in a new multimedia article titled ‘Golf Saved my Life’, published by the Syngenta Growing Golf campaign, highlighting golf and mental health issues and telling the story of young US golfer Sam Gerry, below, who reveals how playing golf saved him after depression left him suicidal at age 14.

Sam Gerry

Recent research from the USA and the UK demonstrate the widespread need for stress-reducing activities.

A 2018 study by the UK’s Mental Health Foundation revealed that in the previous 12 months, 74% of people had felt so stressed they had been overwhelmed or unable to cope. In the same study, almost 10% of respondents said they were stressed “all of the time”.

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A Gallup poll in the USA showed a similar trend, with only 17% of respondents saying that they rarely feel stressed.

Research also shows that women tend to report more stress than men, with one recent poll demonstrating a 78% to 66% difference.

Syngenta’s worldwide research report, The Global Economic Value of Increased Female Participation in Golf, demonstrates that the very things that attract women to the game align with Professor Roe’s insights, as well as with general stress-relief advice from institutions such as the UK’s National Health Service and the USA’s American Heart Foundation.

Professor Jenny Roe

The R&A, one of golf’s governing bodies, is also highlighting the issue, and will launch the first Golf & Health Week (April 15-19, 2019), a dedicated campaign to raise awareness of the health benefits of golf for people of all ages and abilities. One day of the week will specifically concentrate on the game’s mental health benefits (April 16).

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Prof Roe, pictured above, added: “I think to get out and play golf you are really helping manage your mental health in a very holistic way.

“Contact with nature allows us to recover from brain fatigue, reduces our stress levels and improves our mood. In turn, improved mood is linked to what’s called the ‘broaden and build’ hypothesis, with an increased capacity for creative thought and cognitive flexibility that can – potentially – lead to new thought-action repertoires on and off the golf course, and improved performance.”

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