Golfers on the whole are becoming more sedentary over time, given the 21st century lifestyle compounded by the lack of exercise opportunities because of the ubiquitous golf cart. This is a situation that has probably worsened as some golfers stay at home more during these times of Covid-19. This is a problem for young and old alike, but becomes essential for older golfers to address for several reasons.
Why should a golfer care? Some of the effects of aging include loss of bone density and the related increase in fall risk; a reduction in memory and cognition, leading, sometimes, to dementia; the stiffening of blood vessels requiring the heart to work harder to pump blood; and a reduction in muscle strength.
So, what can a golfer do? Check with a health care professional and then do a combination of four types of exercise that are especially beneficial as people age (for aging, read any age at which you hit the ball shorter distances or feel fatigued while playing golf). The four types of exercise (more details at www.nia.nih.gov) are endurance (also known as aerobic or cardio-vascular exercise); strength or weight training; balance, and stretching for flexibility.
There are benefits to each type of exercise so doing all four gives an individual maximum benefits for both life and golf. The benefits of cardio training include strengthening the heart, reducing hypertension and cholesterol, improving diabetes control and mood, and perhaps delaying, or even preventing, dementia. Such training can be easily incorporated into one’s daily life and can include jogging, climbing stairs, cycling, kick-boxing or swimming. The American College of Sports Medicine’s guidelines for all adults aged 18-85, suggest 30 minutes of moderate exercise five days a week (which can be accumulated in three sessions of ten minutes each), or 20 minutes of vigorous exercise for 20 minutes, 3 times per week.
Weight training is especially beneficial for increasing muscle strength (useful for hitting the golf ball further), increasing bone density and strength, reducing depression, controlling diabetes and improving cognition. Weight training should involve the upper and lower body and include all major muscle groups. Upper body training should include exercises for the chest and upper-back muscles, the shoulder muscles, the front and back muscles of the upper-arm, forearm and hand. Lower body training should include exercises for the lower back, the glutes, the front and back of the thighs, and the ankles. These exercises can use body weight, free weights (such as dumbbells or kettle bells), machines or bands. Eight to twelve repetitions over 2 to 3 sets, mixing upper and lower body workouts, 2-3 times per week is a good work-out target.
Balance training is important as people age, especially as it mitigates fall risk, reduces risk of lower body (e.g. knee, ankle) injury, and improves proprioception or the awareness of position in space. This training need not take very long and can be done multiple times per week. It could include marching in place extremely slowly, doing single leg stands with the eyes open and then closed, and a tandem stance with one foot in front of the other in a still posture for 30s at a time.
Finally, stretching can help with increasing joint range of motion, and thus decreasing injury risk. It is also useful for improving posture and balance. The most effective stretching is known to be dynamic stretching, rather than the stretch-and-hold exercises suggested in the past.
And guess what? Playing golf itself is known to be great exercise, and the best way to do this is to walk while playing golf. When a golf course is not really designed for walking, one could switch walking and driving with a cart-partner, or leave the cart on the cart path and walk to and from the ball. Incidentally, walking the course covers the cardio component, while bending to tee up, mark, and pick up a ball is similar to the squatting and lunging of weight training. The bending also covers some aspects of developing balance and flexibility, making golf a good start towards accumulating the four aspects of exercise that are important for aging golfers. Finally, research has shown that golf is good for physical, mental and social health, so, happy golfing.
Dr. Kiran Kanwar, golf science consultant, is the developer of The Minimalist Golf Swing System – 100% scientific, simple, and specific. She has M.S. in sports science and nutrition, a Ph.D. in biomechanics, an anatomy a degree in Kinesiology and is an LPGA Master Professional. Visit her websites www.YourGolfGuru.com and www.mgs.golf