By Jeffrey Howard
I arrived in Lexington almost six years ago and was greeted by my oldest brother at the airport with a birthday gift of a brand new set of golf clubs. I had never really played golf before – tennis was my sport of choice – but that’s how my golf journey began.
My brother Rick, who’s exceptional at the sport, patiently taught me the game, and we played every weekend. This eventually turned into three times a week, and though I’m not sure I ever really improved, I tried my best and loved the game. Over time, I came to learn that the perfect swing is the ultimate goal of golf. Many golfers will purchase state-of-the-art clubs, hoping this will increase the distance of their drive and decrease their handicap. What these golfers don’t realize is that the quality of their clubs will not ultimately lower their handicap. Instead, it’s your overall strength and flexibility that will improve your swing and decrease strokes off of your game.
To increase this strength, a tailored training regimen that focuses on the muscles most used by the player is best. In golf, attention should be given to core strength and flexibility to reduce overuse of your arms and wrists and to prevent strain on the lower back. Golfers should try yoga, pilates and Barre workouts. In addition to strengthening your core, you should strive to improve flexibility in your feet, ankles, hips and lower spine to increase your rotational range of motion. The further you can bend your body while maintaining good alignment, the more powerful your swing will be and the further the ball will go.
Golf is a good way to stay fit through moderate aerobic exercise and strengthening of your muscular and skeletal systems. Here are a few fitness facts regarding golf and your health:
It burns calories to lose weight.
Golf is a surprisingly effective way to burn lots of calories. Losing weight is simple: eat fewer calories than your body uses. When you take in more calories than your body needs, that energy gets stored as fat. When your body can’t get enough calories from food, it pulls the energy from fat instead, resulting in weight loss.
So how many calories can you burn playing golf? Playing an 18-hole round burns 721 to 2,000 calories if you carry clubs. Riding in a cart, you’d burn around 411 to 1,300 calories. The exact amount will vary based on the course and the golfer, but it’s a significant loss no matter what.
If you are new to golf or too busy for a full round of golf, try heading to the driving range. An hour spent hitting a bucket of balls will burn off around 200 calories. In comparison, you’d have to run for 30 minutes to burn the same amount.
It increases your muscle mass to get fit.
During a round of golf you engage several large muscle groups including your back, arms, core and legs. Over time, this repeated exercise increases your lean muscle mass. The more lean muscles you have, the more calories your body burns. Beyond the caloric burn, strong healthy muscles are necessary to support joint health and maintain strong bones. It can even help your body metabolize insulin and become more resistant to diabetes.
The fitness benefits of golf reach beyond fat lost and muscles gained, too. In a research study, a group of mostly sedentary men played golf two to three times a week. Over the course of 20 weeks, the new golfers lost weight, reduced their waist size and decreased the fat around their abdomen. Their stamina increased, their blood pressure lowered and their levels of good HDL cholesterol increased.
It improves your mental health.
Golf has been shown to decrease stress and anxiety and improve overall mental health. Programs have even been designed around golf to treat PTSD in veterans. This mental boost is attributed to a combination of exercise and the following:
• A deficiency of vitamin D has often been linked with depression, and more than 40 percent of Americans are vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D is best absorbed through sunlight. Because most people don’t spend enough time outside, they aren’t getting sufficient vitamin D. Golfing a few times a week can provide you with the vitamin D you need to stay healthy and decreases the risk of depression, certain cancers, osteoporosis, diabetes, hypertension and autoimmune diseases.
• Outdoor activities can help alleviate symptoms of Alzheimer’s, dementia, stress, depression and improve cognitive function. A recent study showed that just 90 minutes of walking in a natural setting, such as a wooded trail or golf course, increased positive thoughts and decreased negative self-talk in most people. VT