New study highlights health benefits of golf for older participants

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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.

Such exercises form an important part of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recommended guidelines to tackle physical inactivity in older people.

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.

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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 included 152 individuals aged 65 and over 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 ten-week instructional golf training programme.

This group included 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.

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It also found that golfers under the age of 80 had better strength and balance than sedentary non-golfers of similar ages, whilst golfers had better dynamic balance and static balance than non-golfers.

The strength of limb muscles and balance, meanwhile, were better in golfers than non-golfers, indicative through gripping and swinging a club, walking, squatting and such like.  

The golf training programme itself was feasible and effective. Novice golfers were able to play nine holes of golf by the tenth week and completed 282 of 300 (94%) total training sessions.

The study further found that physical demands recorded during a golf round were equivalent to or greater than the demands for other common activities, such as gym work or yoga, whilst participants benefited from green space, social interaction and walking over hilly terrain.

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Ahead of the study being peer reviewed to validate findings and future presentations made to the academic world, Professor Maria 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 Organization 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 George 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.

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Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of The R&A, remarked: “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.” 

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