Study adds weight to golf’s health benefits

Dr Murray
Dr Andrew Murray

A study has found that around 40 major chronic diseases could be prevented by playing or spectating golf.

The Golf & Health Project, supported by The R&A and other World Golf Foundation partners, examined the sport’s physical and mental health benefits.

The research, which is summarised here, found that on average, golfers live five years longer than non-golfers, that the game can help combat a wide range of serious diseases and it boosts social interaction, which in turn can reduce the risk of anxiety, depression and dementia.

The project’s aim is to not only increase awareness of its findings, but improve opportunities for participation. 

Dr Andrew Murray who completed his PhD in Golf & Health and is also Chief Medical Officer for the European Tour and Ryder Cup Europe, said: “A lot of what we’ve found has been common sense, but we’re the first to actually prove objectively that golf can provide comprehensive health benefits.

“You might be more likely to get athlete’s foot, but golf can prevent you getting about 40 major chronic diseases including type 2 diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, dementia and depression. And we know it’s very likely to help people live longer.

“It’s never too late. Golf can be played if you’re three years old right the way up to 103. Our number one objective is to increase golf’s reach and make sure this great game can be played by everybody.”

Mental health 

One of Golf & Health’s most significant findings was the impact of golf on mental wellbeing, which Murray describes as “extremely powerful”.

This supports findings from a recent snapshot survey conducted by Syngenta Golf which revealed that 55% of new golf club members said ‘mental wellbeing’ was their primary reason for joining. 

“We also know that golf can provide a lot of enjoyment for people as well,” said Murray. “Some things are good for you but people don’t like them, but with golf there’s enjoyment and social connections you can gain.

“There’s always been controversy about whether golf is good for mental health or not – there’s plenty of frustration out there. Golf can make you angry, but it can also decrease your risk of major illness.”

The great outdoors

The Golf & Health Project highlighted the positive effects of being in the open air and among nature, citing a report by Syngenta Golf in which leading environmental psychologist Professor Jenny Roe from the University of Virginia suggested prospective golfers are attracted to golf because it is outdoors and offers relaxation. 

“Contact with nature slows down our stress response and induces calm,” said Prof. Roe. “There
is evidence to show this is happening in our biological system. It is promoting stress resilience, it is improving our mood, it is decreasing our risk of depression and increasing our social wellbeing, particularly on a golf course where you are interacting with other members of that community.” 

Spectating golf

It is not just playing golf; the report found that attending a golf event also gave significant benefits. 

Research at the 2016 Paul Lawrie Match Play in Scotland – the first study to use pedometer data to assess spectators’ physical activity – showed that almost 83% of spectators exceeded the recommended daily step count with an average of 11,589 steps.

Attending an event is also an opportunity to spend time in green space and, COVID-19 notwithstanding, socialise with friends and family, which are proven to have psychological benefits.

A follow-up paper also found that 40% of the spectators from the study increased their physical activity during the three months after attending the event.