Tips for Senior Golfers

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GOLF

Playing golf offers great health benefits that can span a lifetime and an increasing number of older Americans are enjoying those benefits more than ever. According to the U.S. National Golf Foundation, senior golfers (over 50 years old) account for about 25 percent of the total golfer population.

To explain some of the benefits as well as possible health issues associated with playing golf, sports medicine experts at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) provide the following tips for senior golfers on how to make the game more enjoyable and lower the injury risks associated with the game of golf.

Even Golfers Need to Stretch Prior to Playing

Even though golf doesn't require intense training, stretching prior to play is still necessary for golfers of all ages.

"Warm-up prior to practice or playing reduces the risk of injury for any sport. It is not wise to go from the parking lot to the first tee or to the driving range without properly stretching," said Timothy Sell, Ph.D., P.T., coordinator of research and activities at the University of Pittsburgh Neuromuscular Research Laboratory (NMRL).

"The common misconception is that golf is a sport with few injuries and thus is suited for an older population. In reality, approximately 30 percent of all people who play golf will experience some type of golf injury. The golf swing places a tremendous amount of stress on the body and as such, prior to playing golf, whether young, old, male, female, elite or amateur, one must make sure that his or her body is in good physical condition. A person is never too old to improve fitness through aerobic activity, flexibility and strength training," added Dr. Sell.

To Walk or Not to Walk, That is the Question

Golf is not only about socializing with your friends, but actually can serve as a valuable way to improve physical fitness; assuming golfers don't ride in the cart for the entire round.

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"Walking while playing golf can be a tremendous benefit to overall fitness by improving aerobic capacity. We recently examined the metabolic demands of walking versus riding and discovered that walking can increase your heart rate to levels that meet nationally recognized guidelines for aerobic exercise," said Joseph Myers, Ph.D., A.T.C., assistant professor in the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine department of orthopaedic surgery and associate director of NMRL. "However, these benefits need to be balanced with the potential problems associated with walking long distances, including joint pain, potential heat-related issues and inability to handle the increased physiological demands of walking. We don't recommend carrying golf clubs - use a pull cart instead. And golfers should consult their physicians to determine if it is safe to walk nine or 18 holes," Dr. Myers stressed.

Getting Hit by a Ball Isn't the Only Way to Get Hurt Playing Golf

Since a person's body isn't made like a giant rubber band, the twists and turns required in golf can cause serious injuries to golfers of all ages.

"We recommend that older individuals who are new to the sport seek professional medical and golf advice prior to playing," said Joseph Meyers, Ph.D., A.T.C., assistant professor in the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine department of orthopaedic surgery and associate director of NMRL. "Golf is a joint-specific demanding activity, especially for the shoulders, elbows, wrists and back. Golf can result in joint injuries or aggravate existing conditions. A physician can determine a golfer's capacity to play golf and a golf professional can ensure that a golfer uses proper techniques."

"The physical demands of golf can place additional stress on existing conditions such as osteoarthritis of the hips and knees," added Timothy Sell, Ph.D., P.T., coordinator of research and activities at the University of Pittsburgh Neuromuscular Research Laboratory (NMRL).

"Our research at the UPMC Golf Fitness Lab has demonstrated that as golfers age, they lose flexibility, strength and single-leg balance ability. These age-related changes are similar to the general population, but fortunately can be improved with appropriate physical training," said Dr. Sell.

Playing Above P.A.R., Mentally

"Golf is one of those sports that people claim is 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical and it's true. Losing concentration and focus on the golf course can turn the best round into the worst round of your life," said Aimee Kimball, Ph.D., director of mental training at the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine, who has some simple ways to reach your "Mental P.A.R."

"The 'P' stands for 'Plan It and Picture It,' which requires a golfer to pre-plan mental and physical responses to the things that challenge him or her on the course, and to vividly imagine those responses, including swing, attitude, emotions and the performance the golfer would like to have. The 'A' represents 'Attitude and Attention.' In order for the golfer to achieve the correct attitude and attention that the sport requires, he or she must choose the correct mindset he or she wants before, during and after a round. Focus on one shot at a time and where you want that shot to go. Golfers also should remember that if they want good results from their game, they must choose to stay confident and focused.

"Finally, 'R' stands for 'Relaxing.' In order to relax, a golfer should take a deep breath before each shot, release any built up physical tension, use a trigger word to clear the mind and last but not least, connect the club with the ball," said Dr. Kimball.

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