Playing golf is associated with improved physical health and mental well-being and potentially contributes to increased life expectancy, according to a study in the Golf Science Journal. Check out the various science-based mental benefits of playing golf below.
Alleviating anxiety and depression
Exercise is a proven way to find relief from some mental and emotional problems. A 2017 review of studies in Maturitas: An International Journal of Health at Midlife and Beyond show that exercise alleviates symptoms of anxiety, stress and 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 Dr. Shini Ambardar, a Los Angeles psychiatrist who works with older adults. “Also, being outside while playing golf exposes people to natural light, which helps maintain a regular circadian rhythm and supports serotonin production, which in turn reduces symptoms of depression,” she says.
Golfers spend many hours outdoors, and time outside is a proven mood booster, especially for older adults, according to a study in International Journal of Environmental and Public Health Research. In fact, researchers report that older adults who spend at least 30 minutes outdoors each day are more likely to have fewer depressive symptoms than those who spend that time indoors.
Increased social interaction
“One of the reasons golf may be so popular with older adults is because of the social and psychological benefits it provides,” says Dr. Ambardar. “Being around other human beings in a friendly, fun, low-stakes environment has many mental health benefits.”
This advantage can be particularly strong for retired people who no longer have the guaranteed daily contact with others that their workplace provides.
“As people age, they tend to become more socially isolated, which can increase their chances of developing depression, anxiety and cognitive decline,” says Dr. Ambardar. “Golf provides a great way to combat these risks because it is usually played with other people, thus offering a natural opportunity for friendship and human contact – which we know improves mental health.”
“It’s a very social game,” adds Cooper. “If you’re looking to meet new people, that’s a great thing. You can turn off when you are not talking to other people. But when you’re out there playing golf with other people, you hear their ideas, you talk about your grandkids, you see that other people have problems too. You can admit that sometimes getting old is hard. We’re turning a page, we’re not working as much, and it can be difficult.”
By starting or returning to golf slowly (and accepting your skill level), your confidence can grow. “Golf is about understanding your balance and athleticism,” says Cooper. “I try to get each student to be the best of what they come with.”
And regular play, which can lead to improvement, also helps boost confidence. “For golf, it’s better to do it every day than weekly, and four times a week is better than once a week,” says Cooper. But be realistic about your expectations – “there is no crash course”. And don’t be afraid to do something wrong, he says. It’s all part of the learning process.
Golfers must develop (to some degree) the quality of patience – with themselves, with other people, and with the game (unlike tennis or the ball, a round of golf moves at a slow pace). Cooper says many novice players give up because they don’t think they’re improving fast enough and lack that thrill of a breakthrough in their skill level.
“If you’re playing golf, you shouldn’t rush it or expect instant gratification,” says Cooper. “You’re going to go so fast.” Cooper adds that when he sees people excited on the golf course, it’s most likely because they’ve brought worries from the outside world into the game. “I think there’s a lot you can learn about yourself when you play golf. If you’re not patient, it’s a skill you’ll have to develop,” he says.