Live longer, play golf

July 02, 2014

by: John Gordon (@gordongolf)

Want to be healthy, lose weight and have a longer and happier life? Play golf.

That statement is so indisputable that I could end this blog right now (much to my editor’s delight, I am sure), but for doubting Thomases out there, I will offer some facts to back up that simple truth. These are especially pertinent to those of, ahem, advancing years—Boomers (in Canada, that means anyone born between 1947 and 1966), seniors, retirees, old farts, whatever.  (I got excited when I first heard I was a “sexagenarian.” Then I found out it means someone in their 60s. Damn.)

And there are lots of you … I mean, us … out there, on and off the golf course. Recent Statistics Canada data show there are 2.7 million Canadians between the ages of 50 and 54, 2.5 million between 55 and 59, 2.1 million between 60 and 64, 1.7 million between 65 and 69, 1.2 million between 70 and 74 … and we’ll stop there as everyone can see the trend. Approximately 30 per cent of all men in Canada in that overall age bracket golf as do about 10 per cent of women.

Despite the fact that our country has the world’s highest per-capita golf participation rate, that means seven out of 10 Canadian men and nine out of 10 women age 50 and older don’t golf. Seriously? If you’re not golfing, just what the heck are you doing? Watching daytime cable TV, waiting for the pension cheque to show up, re-reading 150 Delicious Ways To Serve SPAM®? As our fellow Canadian oldster Neil Young (born Nov. 12, 1945) croons, “It’s better to burn out than fade away…” Okay, so golfing isn’t exactly “burning out,” but it certainly can prevent you from fading away. To wit:

Fact #1: The death rate for golfers is 40 per cent lower than for non-golfers of the same age, sex and socio-economic status, according to a study of 300,000 golfers by Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet. That equates to a five-year increase in life expectancy for regular golfers.

That alone should be enough to persuade most of you to get out and golf, but, wait, there’s more!

Fact #2: A walked 18-hole round is about equal in distance to an eight-kilometre hike. Just walking 18 holes drops blood glucose levels by up to 30 per cent in older golfers and helps with weight maintenance. Walking and carrying your clubs for 18 holes burns about 2,000 calories but walking and carrying is not always an option, especially for seniors. While manual pull/push carts are fine for some, more and more golfers of all ages are gravitating towards what the Brits call “electric trolleys,” says Joseph McLuckie, Canadian distributor of Stewart Golf Carts and Motocaddy, the latter being the world leader in that category. “It offers all the benefits of walking without expending all the extra energy of carrying or pushing your clubs around.” This could result in fewer strokes, both golf and that other kind we don’t like to talk about. “These are most definitely not a sign that you’re a geriatric golfer,” McLuckie says. “These are high-tech, especially the one I am using that follows you around the course.” He’s referring to the sleek and sophisticated Stewart “X9 Follow” that, thanks to Bluetooth technology, stays a few paces behind the golfer, matches their walking pace exactly and stops and starts when they do. Although the X9 is pricey, McLuckie points out that Motocaddy models start at about $700, about the cost of a single-season cart package at many courses. It doesn’t take too many daily cart rentals to equal that, either. So what have we learned? Golf can save you money as well as your life. You are welcome.

Fact #3: Although your age is increasing, your handicap doesn’t have to. David Marshall, national account manager for PING Canada, says proper club fitting is even more important as you get older. Your slower swing speed and reduced flexibility may mean you will play better with softer and longer shafts, higher-lofted hybrids or fairway woods to replace your longer irons, and larger-diameter grips. “My dad, who is retired, suffered from tendinitis, so he took Advil and used a brace on his arm when he golfed,” says Marshall. “When we switched him from steel shafts to graphite, the tendinitis disappeared. Now he plays just about every day. No more Advil, no more brace.” Also, swallow your ego. Playing a more forward set of tees offers more chances at pars and birdies and a more satisfying golf experience overall.

Fact #4: Older golfers tend to have better balance control and more confidence than their non-golfing peers and, with a little help, they can achieve many more health benefits. Heather Tennant of Therapeutic Mobility in Barrie, Ont., is certified in FITforeGOLF, a program developed in 1996 by Canadian medical specialists and PGA of Canada members. “The program lets us modify your swing as your body goes through the life cycle,” says Tennant. “We look at the golfer’s mobility, posture, strength, balance, nutrition, and more, and then develop a personalized program for them.” If you’re out of shape or suffering some injury or other ailment, age-related or not, that affects your golf, FITforeGOLF practitioners can help with that, too.

Fact #5: The social aspect of golf is conducive to creating and maintaining friendships, which in turn can improve mental acuity and wellbeing as well as overall happiness. A healthy brain is equally as important as a healthy body. Or so I have been told.

Fact #6: We often hear the most popular activities for seniors are things (that I personally find supremely boring on their own) like gardening, bird watching, walking … Heck, golf combines all those activities and more and it’s a lot more fun, too.

Thanks for reading all of this. Of course, you could have just taken my word for it after the first two sentences and headed for the golf course. Now, go! It’s never too late.

(Note: The majority of the health-related data was taken from a study commissioned by the World Golf Foundation and Golf 20/20. The golf demographics were provided by Golf Canada. You can learn more about Stewart and Motocaddy electric carts at www.jpsmgolf.com. Details on FITforGOLF are at www.fitforegolf.com.)

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