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A round of golf brings more health benefits for older adults than simply walking

Don't resent the sand trap. It might be good for your heart.

Don't resent the sand trap. It might be good for your heart. Photo: Getty

We’ve banged on a bit about older adults getting out there and walking the neighbourhood for the sake of their health.

There’s no doubt that walking is great for the heart, but a new study suggests playing golf might do a better job with controlling blood sugar levels and fats (cholesterol).

This is despite the fact that golf is played at less intensity than regular walking, or walking with sticks, known as Nordic walking.

The study comes out of the Institute of Biomedicine at the University of Eastern Finland – which explains the inclusion of Nordic walking in the research.

Three varieties of exercise

The researchers note that most “relevant study” – where the benefits of different types of exercise are compared – have tended to focus “on younger people participating in acute bouts of exercise lasting 30 to 60 minutes at moderate to high intensity with less information available on the impact of exercise on older people”.

The researchers set out to compare the acute effects of three different types of age-appropriate aerobic exercises “on markers of cardio-metabolic health in terms of intensity, duration and energy expenditure”.

Golf does a better job at maintaining metabolic health. Photo: Getty

For this, they recruited 25 healthy older golfers (aged 65 and above) and put them through their paces with an 18-hole round of golf, six kilometres of Nordic walking, and six kilometres of old fashioned walking.

They idea was to test which form of exercise had the best impact on blood pressure, blood glucose, and blood lipid profile in a real-life environment.

The results

For the study, the researchers took blood samples – blood glucose finger-prick tests – and measured the participants’ blood pressure.

The participants wore devices to measure exercise distance, duration, pace, energy expenditure and steps. They also wore an ECG sensor with a chest strap to measure heart rate.

Predictably, all three types of aerobic exercise “improved the cardiovascular profile in older adults when performed in acute bouts despite differences in duration and intensity”.

Of course, any type of aerobic exercise will do you good, but there was an interesting finding.

All three exercises lowered systolic blood pressure (BP) – the top number in a BP reading that measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats.

But golf came to the fore

However, Nordic walking – described as an enhanced walking technique in which people use poles to work their upper body as well as their legs – also led to a decrease in diastolic blood pressure, which measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats.

So big tick for Nordic walking’s overall impact on blood pressure.

However, a long round of golf did a better job at positively affecting their lipid profile (fats in the blood, notably cholesterol) and glucose metabolism.

The researchers believe it was “the longer duration and higher total energy expenditure involved in playing golf” that allowed these health gains.

There’s a good message here: If you’re dawdling, and stopping for a chat with your companions, putting in a good amount of time exercising, even without cracking a sweat, pays dividends.

The study had some limitations: Small sample size, debatable accuracy of the fitness devices, and the uncontrolled aspect of testing in a real-life environment and not a lab.

Topics: golf, Health
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