Playing golf has been linked to improved physical health and mental wellbeing, and may contribute to longer lifespans, according to a study in the Golf Science Journal. Discover the various science-backed mental benefits of playing golf below.
Anxiety and Depression Relief
Exercise is a proven way to find relief from some mental and emotional problems. A 2017 review of studies in Maturitas: An International Journal for Midlife Health and Beyond showed that exercise reduces anxiety, stress and symptoms of depression.
“We know from several studies that even light exercise, like walking for 30 minutes three times a week, can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety,” says Sheenie Ambardar, MD, a Los Angeles-based psychiatrist who works with older adults. “In addition, being outdoors while playing golf exposes people to natural light, which helps maintain a regular circadian rhythm and supports the production of serotonin, which in turn reduces symptoms of depression,” she says.
Golfers spend long hours outdoors — and outdoor time is increasing, according to a study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. In fact, the researchers reported that older adults who spent at least 30 minutes outside each day were more likely to have fewer depressive symptoms than those who spent that time indoors.
Increased social interaction
“One of the reasons golf is so popular among older adults is the social and psychological benefits it provides,” says Dr. Ambardar. “Being with other people in a friendly, fun, low-stakes environment has many mental health benefits.”
This benefit can be particularly powerful for retirees who no longer have the guaranteed daily contact with others that a job offers.
“As people get older, they tend to become more socially isolated, which can increase their chances of developing depression, anxiety, and cognitive decline,” says Dr. Ambardar. “Golf offers a great way to combat these risks because it’s typically played around other people, thus providing a natural opportunity for camaraderie and human contact – which we know improves mental health.”
“It’s a very social game,” adds Cooper. “If you want to meet new people, that’s a great thing. You can shut down when you’re not having conversations with other people. But when you’re out there playing golf with others, hearing their ideas, talking about your grandchildren, you see that other people have problems too. You can kind of acknowledge that getting older is difficult at times. We turn a page, don’t work that much, and that can be tough.”
build up trust
By slowly starting or returning to golf (and accepting your ability), your confidence can grow. “Golf is about understanding your balance and athleticism,” says Cooper. “I try to get every student to make the most of what they bring with them.”
And regular play, which can lead to improvements, also helps build confidence. “For golf, it’s better to do it daily than weekly, and four times a week is better than once a week,” says Cooper. But be realistic in your expectations – “there is no such thing as an accelerated course”. And don’t be afraid to do something wrong, he says. It’s all part of the learning process.
Golfers need to develop patience (to a degree) – with themselves, other people and the game (unlike tennis or pickleball, a round of golf moves at a slow pace). Cooper says that many beginners quit because they feel they’re not improving fast enough and they’re missing out on the thrill of a breakthrough in their skill.
“When you play golf, you shouldn’t be in a hurry or expect instant gratification,” says Cooper. “You’ll only go so fast.” Cooper adds that when he sees people getting excited on the golf course, it’s most likely because they brought concerns from the outside world into play. “I think there are many things you can find out about yourself by playing golf. If you’re not patient, you need to develop that skill,” he says.