John Daly drives a golf cart along the 16th fairway during the first round of the PGA Championship golf tournament in May 2019. The amount of energy expended during a round of golf varies.
Andres Kudacki / AP
With golf courses from coast to coast open for the season, millions of Canadians are getting their swing on. But as popular as golf is, there’s some debate about whether it’s enough of a workout to improve health and fitness.Keep in mind that the golf you see played on TV isn’t the same as the golf on display at your local course. The pro’s game is physical, with strength, endurance and flexibility necessary components of success on the links. Most pro golfers have a personal trainer and a year-round fitness regimen. The PGA has a portable gym that travels with the Tour. That’s in sharp contrast to most Canadians who hit the links every spring without hitting the gym.The amount of energy expended during a round of golf varies. So depending on how much of the course is covered by a cart versus walking, whether the course is hilly or flat, and the age and weight of the golfer, the amount of health and fitness benefits gained over 18 holes fluctuates.Several studies have reported a positive link between golf and improved life expectancy, suggesting that golfers have a 40-per-cent lower mortality rate than non-golfers. Much of that improved life expectancy has to do with walking the course versus taking a cart. Those stats reflect swinging a club several times a week, versus several times a season.Some figures indicate golfing burns three to eight calories per minute, or 264-450 calories per game. For those who walk the course, an 18-hole golf game covers five to eight miles. That’s 11,245–16,667 steps on a step counter, which is enough to be considered a moderate-intensity aerobic activity.Riding a cart reduces step count to 6,280 steps, or about three miles over 18 holes.The intensity of the game continually changes depending on whether the player is walking, standing or swinging a golf club, which means it fluctuates between light, moderate and high intensity activities.Golf is responsible for its share of injuries. The pros are more likely to get injured than recreational golfers, and the primary cause is overuse. Too many hours repeating the same motion is tough on the joints. So, too, is poor swing mechanics, which is the secondary cause of injury among golfers not on the pro circuit.The lead-side (left arm and leg in a right handed golfer) elbow, wrist, hand and shoulder of golfers are more likely to be injured. So is the spine, which is called upon to rotate with speed, power and full range of motion — a challenge for golfers without the requisite strength and flexibility.The risk of injury is low compared with other sports, though it’s interesting to note that in the United States golf has the highest incidence of lightning strikes resulting in death, so make sure you get off the course during periods of extreme weather. Golfers also have a higher-than-average risk of skin cancer, making sunscreen a must for golfers.The good news for everyone who spends their summer on the course, regardless of whether they walk 18 holes or use a cart, is that studies of golfers claim they boast a higher quality of life than non-golfers, which may be what keeps them coming back for more even after those games when nothing seems to go right.Then there’s golf’s reputation for being a social game and one of the few that allows for intergenerational play. This ability to connect with friends and family expands the benefits of playing a round of golf to beyond just the physical.There’s evidence suggesting golfers who are a bit older and heavier can benefit from improved balance, strength and muscular function by playing regularly.The objective for the average golfer is to accumulate the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week by walking the course. When choosing a course or a golf partner make sure you can walk, and watch how many steps you’re taking, using a fitness tracker. Make 10,000 steps your goal and don’t be shy to get creative when it comes to finding ways to get it done. If you’re going to spend the summer on the golf course, why not do more than just improve your game.Related