Anyone who has played 18 holes of golf knows how physically demanding it can be. You’ll spend hours walking from tee to ball, maybe hauling a cart of clubs, in the heat, wind, or other elements (depending on the forecast). Is golf, however, tough enough to qualify as exercise?
It all depends. “Although a reasonable level of cardio is required for golf, the level required is not excessively high.” “Because golf is slow walking with frequent breaks, the heart and lungs are not under a lot of strain for long periods of time during a round,” explains Sarav Shah, MD, an orthopedist specializing in sports medicine at New England Baptist Hospital in Brighton and Waltham, Massachusetts.
And how much physical activity you receive depends on whether you’re hitting a club at a driving range, walking from hole to hole through various terrain, or riding in a golf cart from hole to hole.
It can enhance various bodily functions, including endurance and mobility, and in certain situations counts as moderate exercise – enough to avoid going to the gym that day.
Here’s all you need to know about when and how much golf qualifies as exercise.
Golf is a low-intensity sport that provides some fitness benefits.
Golf does not always stress the muscles in a way that counts as strength training, and depending on the tempo of play and how you go from hole to hole, it is not always intense enough to serve as a cardio workout (more on that below). But, as Dr. Shah points out, golf is still physical exercise — “undoubtedly more than you would get sitting on the couch.”
And, while it is not a strenuous activity, it may increase strength conditioning, balance, low- to moderate-level aerobic capacity and mobility, according to him.
Walking the course instead of utilizing a golf cart increases the cardo. “If you walk 18 holes three to five times per week, you’ll get some cardiovascular endurance exercise.” “You’ll burn more calories per round if you pull or carry your clubs,” Shah adds.
According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, a 160-pound individual burns an estimated 252 calories per hour playing golf even if they ride on a cart, and 396 calories per hour if they walk with their clubs (which may mount up quickly during a three- to four-hour round).
However, whether golf will considerably improve your overall fitness relies on a number of factors, the most important of which are the various sorts of activities you engage in and your present fitness level. “If combined with other forms of exercise and a healthy varied diet, golf will help to keep you fit, trim, and conditioned for daily life,” Shah explains.
To satisfy current exercise standards, he suggests adding two days of high-intensity activity, such as tennis, pickleball, or jogging, as well as strength training (more on that later). “Activities that raise your heart rate are encouraged in order to get the most cardiovascular benefit from exercise,” he says.
Can Golf Be Used as Aerobic Exercise?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic exercise. Depending on how your golf day goes, it might count toward that suggestion.
According to the CDC, “moderate” exercise requires your heart rate to be between 64 and 70% of your maximal heart rate. “Golf counts as moderate intensity if you’re walking,” explains George Eldayrie, MD, medical director of the Arnold Palmer Invitational Golf Tournament and a board-certified sports medicine physician at Orlando Health Jewett Orthopedic Institute.
A review of 301 studies published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine concluded that golf offered moderate physical activity, albeit the evaluation did not differentiate between those who walked or used a cart. A tiny research published in the journal BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine in February 2023 discovered that golfing lowered blood pressure and cholesterol in healthy persons more than walking or Nordic walking treatments.
Even better, a 2009 Swedish study discovered that golfers were 40% less likely to die young than non-golfers, equating to a five-year life extension. Research published in Stroke in February 2020 discovered that golfers 65 and older lived longer than non-golfers in the same age group.
Can Golf Be Classified as Strength Training?
While golf can be beneficial for strength conditioning (keeping you in shape for daily activities), you shouldn’t forego specialized strength training simply because you start golfing. “There are strength components involved in just the way the body moves [during golf], particularly the core, legs, and arms,” Dr. Eldayrie explains. To satisfy the CDC’s suggestion for weekly strength workouts, though, you’ll need to do something more strenuous. “Golf must be supplemented with resistance training,” he explains.
Golf is generally safe for most people, but some should exercise caution.
Who should use caution? What are some of the golf-related injuries? And how can you avoid unfavorable options?
Golf is a sport that can be enjoyed from “age 4 to age 94,” according to Eldayrie. And it is safe for the vast majority of individuals.
People with a History of Heart Disease
People with underlying cardiovascular concerns (such as those who have had a heart attack or who have had a stent installed) should see their doctor before participating in the sport, especially if they plan to walk the course or be out on the course all day, according to Eldayrie. “If you’re playing cart golf, the game isn’t as rigorous,” he explains.
People Suffering from Back Injuries
People with back injuries may struggle if their condition isn’t well-managed right now. “A lot of times, golf swings can make that a little bit worse, if that’s not under control, or if their swing is really imbalanced,” he says.
If you have a current or previous back ailment, see your doctor before playing golf. Physical treatment aimed at strengthening the muscles that support the back may be beneficial.
People Who Have Joint Problems
Those with joint problems may need to ease into golf gradually and take it easy in general, he advises. “I’ll still recommend that they try to get out there and do what they can, but you kind of have to understand your limitations,” Eldayrie adds.
Other Things to Think About for Everyone
Even in healthy persons, golf can cause injuries, most notably to the wrists and elbows. Eldayrie argues that the problem is usually doing too much too soon or having bad form. His words of wisdom? Swing within your capabilities. “They should not overdo it — changes in their swing or grip create a different type of demand on specific muscle groups.”
Rather than attempting to practice a single strategy for all 18 holes, ease into trying new things gradually. And if you’re exhausted to the point where your form is failing, it’s time to stop, he says.
In terms of weariness, Shah advises all golfers to eat, pack snacks, and remain hydrated. “Some people eat very little during a four-hour round of golf and may not have eaten anything substantial prior to that.” This can build up to six or seven hours of driving time with no petrol in the tank. You’re not giving yourself the best chance of playing to your ability if you’re not fuelling up on the course. “Drink a glass of water at each tee box [and] refill your water bottle at the turn,” he recommends. He recommends drinking at least 32 ounces each nine holes.
Golf is a form of physical exercise that can be good for one’s overall health. It’s an excellent approach to burning calories and enhancing general fitness for daily living. Golf can occasionally be considered moderate aerobic activity, especially if the course is walked. However, golf does not fulfill the requirements for high-intensity exercise or strength training. Golfers would still benefit from a couple of high-intensity exercises per week, such as pickleball or running, as well as two days per week of strength training.