Sunday, 7th May 2023


Very sorry to be a day late with this post – I did not wish to interrupt your enjoyment of the coronation.

This week I am continuing the FITT principle, still at T (Type) of exercise – in this case Golf.

A round of golf a day keeps the doctor away

My last blog on golf was in September 2021 and I can now bring it up to date with the results of recent research.

Just to remind you:

Golf is a sport usually played on a large open-air course, in which a ball is struck with a club, with the aim of taking the lowest number of shots possible to get the ball into a series of holes in the ground. Golf is played by around 55 million people in 206 countries worldwide representing 1/127 of the global population. This global reach, and appeal to persons of all ages and abilities has seen golf reintroduced in 2016 to the Olympic Games

The place of golf in helping maintain physical activity and good health is an and unsung field. Golf has the potential to satisfy all the recommendations of the health promoters – 150 minutes of moderate exertion per week with additional muscle strengthening exercise. It can give health and social benefits to persons of all ages. Golf is particularly popular among middle-aged and older adults, who otherwise engage in less physical activity  than younger people but really need the sort of exercise which golf can provide.

How much exercise are golfers taking?

The intensity of golf has been variously estimated at between gentle and moderately vigorous. A lot depends on how the clubs are transported around the course. If a buggy is used, the exercise is light indeed but if a heavy bag is carried it is certainly moderately vigorous or more, particularly if the player is in a hurry to finish the round. Other factors include the hilliness of the course and the age of the player.

The intensity of playing golf has been reckoned as between 2.5 and 8 METs (remember 1 MET is the rate of exertion of doing nothing. Light exercise uses less than 3 METs, Moderate is between 3 and 7 METs and Vigorous exercise is more than 7 METs.) Caloric expenditure lies between 260 and 450 kcal/hour and the number of steps per 18 hole round is between 11,000 and 17,000 to cover about four miles. The actual distance covered depends, of course, upon the skill of the player.

Effects on physical function

Studies of older golfers have shown a significant beneficial effect on body weight, BMI and body fat content. Strength, muscle function and balance are improved as are aerobic fitness, blood lipids and insulin-glucose levels.

There have been no randomised trials of golf to show an effect on chronic diseases. However the changes wrought are very likely to help the prevention and treatment of a number of chronic  diseases such as coronary disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke and various cancers. There are also a number of mental and social gains for the participants.

In one study of almost 5,900 participants, average age 72, researchers identified 384 golfers (41.9% men). During follow-up, a significantly smaller proportion of the golfers had suffered strokes or heart attacks. The death rate in the golfers was 15.1%, in the non-golfers it was 24.6%.

Joint disease

Osteoarthritis (OA)is the most common cause of joint disease. It is the leading cause of chronic pain and the second most frequent cause of disability. A recent study from South Australia has suggested that golf is also an excellent way of managing this condition.  In a survey of 459 golfers with OA, more than 90% rated their health from good to excellent compared to 64% of the general population with the same condition. High to very high levels of distress were found in 8% of the golfers compared to 22% of the non-golfers.

The prevention of frailty and premature death

The fact that so many older people play golf greatly adds to its utility. This is an age group which has much to gain from physical activity – playing golf gives older people an incentive to keep active at a time of life when they are becoming increasingly sedentary. Regular golf must be an excellent way of postponing the frailty associated with inactivity.

Any downsides?

Well yes, but only a few. Amateurs rarely sustain more than minor musculo-skeletal injuries, mostly lower back, elbow, wrist, hand and shoulder strains and sprains. Head injuries from ball or club collisions do happen. Use of golf buggies is associated with occasional falls, collisions and limb entrapment. Lightning strikes are well recognised but rare. Sudden death on the golf course does happen but very infrequently – nevertheless many courses have at least one fairway christened heart attack hill.

And the cost?

Quite a lot, with few golf clubs offering membership at less that £1,000 per annum. More expensive courses can have fees as high as £125,000 for joining with an annual membership costing £16,000.

However for most clubs the cost is modest if calculated as price per hour of excellent entertainment. If you play three rounds per week at a course costing £1,000 pa, each round is costing £6.40 and each hour of fun comes in at just £1.60. You can’t get much better value for money than that.

An expert’s opinion

“While walking and low intensity jogging may be comparable exercise, they lack the competitive excitement of golf. Regular exercise, exposure to a less polluted environment and social interactions provided by golf are all positive for health. Another positive is that older adults can continue to play golf, unlike other more strenuous sports such as football, boxing and tennis. Additional positive aspects are stress relief and relaxation, which golf appears better suited for than other sports.”

A good walk spoiled? (Mark Twain)

Doctors frequently impart unpalatable information regarding lifestyle. This message is different. Play golf regularly and carry or pull the bag, if you can, to enhance wellbeing. A round a day keeps the doctor away – a good walk enhanced rather than spoiled.

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