The benefits of exercise and golf for our ageing population

22 September 2020

Researchers at The University of Notre Dame Australia have been working hard to investigate how people can continue playing golf into the autumn of their lives.

Author and humourist P. G. Wodehouse once said “Golf, like measles, should be caught young, for, if postponed to riper years, the results may be serious.” In his mind, golf was a sport best taken up at an early age, and yet many people are well into, and perhaps past, middle age before they discover the simple pleasure and competitive anguish of hitting a small dimpled ball around on rolling greens.

Many people come to golf in their later life, especially sport lovers who find their bodies objecting to the hard and fast world of footy, basketball, soccer, or any number of high-impact pursuits. The 2019 Golf Australia Annual Report found that the average age of male and female golfers in Australia is 56 and 64 years old, respectively.

The benefits of golf for an ageing population are becoming increasingly obvious to many researchers, and Notre Dame School of Health Sciences’ Senior Lecturer Dr Chris Joyce is at the cutting edge of this growing knowledge.

Alongside a team comprising Associate Professor Fiona Farringdon, Dr Jenny Conlon, and two Notre Dame graduates, Dr Joyce recruited 53 seniors who played golf recreationally and split them into two groups, a ‘healthy’ group, and a ‘condition’ group made up of those who are affected by an age-related musculoskeletal condition such as osteoporosis, low back pain, or arthritis.

After they took baseline assessments from each group, the ‘condition’ group underwent 6 weeks of intervention.

“The sessions consisted of strength-based exercise intervention where the participants came into the exercise lab twice a week,” said Dr Joyce, “we do musculoskeletal screening, golf swing analysis with a simulator, and golf-specific conditioning and rehabilitation.”

To use Dr Joyce’s emphatic description, the results were “amazing”.

The physical results included weight loss, improved posture, balance, flexibility, and walking distance over six minutes. Their golf ability improved; hitting shots further and increasing club head and ball speed.

“Most important was the feedback from the participants, including one participant who now plays pain free, another who has won his club championship, and a visually impaired participant who’s bone mineral density score had increased more in six weeks doing strength training than it had on medication for osteoporosis.”

These results highlight both the benefits of regular exercise interventions, and the health benefits that a low-impact sport like golf offers. At the very least, the results once again show how much of a difference minor interventions can have in overall physical health.

Find out more about Dr Joyce’s work and the Golf Rehabilitation Clinic.

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