Mental Benefits of Playing Golf
Published: Sep 27, 2022
More than 25 million Americans played golf on a course in 2021, according to the National Golf Foundation. And for many people, it’s much more than a game. A 2020 survey of 250 golfers in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. found the majority cited “mental well-being” as their reason for playing.
What does golf have to do with mental well-being, you ask? More than you might think.
“Golf can provide health-enhancing physical activity,” says Andrew Murray, co-director of Edinburgh University’s Sport and Exercise Medicine Research Group. Physical activity provides a wealth of health benefits, such as decreasing risk of heart attack, strokes, type 2 diabetes, and bowel and breast cancers, says Murray. “It can also be an effective treatment for anxiety, depression and dementia,” he adds.
What’s more, physical activity can have protective effects against Alzheimer’s disease specifically, according to a 2017 study.
Golf checks all the boxes as a mood-lifting activity. It’s played outdoors at a non-stress-inducing pace and often in the company of other like-minded people. And because you can always improve your focus, balance and swing, golf provides a continual challenge for most players.
For people who are new to golf or returning after years of not playing, the key to keeping it fun is to begin slowly, advises Lew Cooper, a golf instructor based in Fountain Valley, California.
“Start at the level where you can be happy in golf,” he says. “Don’t compare yourself to your 21-year-old college self. There are certain things we don’t do that well as we get older.
You have to deal with [the] physicality, body awareness and mobility that you have today—not five years ago and not even one year ago. Some people want to hit balls as soon as they can. That’s our society—we want it all now.” It’s best to start with the basics and advance to bigger courses slowly, adds Cooper.
The Science-Backed Benefits of Playing Golf
Playing golf is associated with improved physical health and mental well-being, and it potentially contributes to increased life expectancy, according to a Golf Science Journal study. Explore 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 of Midlife Health and Beyond showed that exercise alleviates anxiety, stress and depression symptoms.
“We know from several studies that even mild exercise like walking 30 minutes three times a week can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety,” says Sheenie Ambardar, M.D., a Los Angeles-based psychiatrist who works with older adults. “In addition, being outside while playing golf exposes people to natural light, which helps maintain a regular circadian rhythm and aids in the production of serotonin, which in turn reduces symptoms of depression,” she says.
Golfers spend many hours outdoors—and time outside is a proven mood-booster, particularly for older adults, 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 outdoors each day were more likely to have fewer depressive symptoms than those who spent that time indoors.