Feel­ing be­low par? Try play­ing golf

Stud­ies show the sport is a fair way to im­prove health and in­crease longevity

The Irish Times - Tuesday - Health - - Health Fitness - Ge­orge Win­ter

Un­til re­cently I dis­missed golf as a leisure pur­suit, a prej­u­dice deep­ened by its prac­ti­tion­ers’ shared phe­no­type of pas­tel-coloured jumpers and retina-melt­ing breeks. I was wrong.

Golf is a sport; in­deed, play­ing golf could add years to your life, as the ti­tle of a 2009 study in the Scan­di­na­vian Jour­nal of Medicine & Science in Sports im­plies. A Swedish study of more than 300,000 reg­is­tered adult male and fe­male golfers found that they had a 40 per cent re­duced mor­tal­ity com­pared with the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion.

And in 2016, a ma­jor anal­y­sis in the Bri­tish Jour­nal of Sports Medicine noted that golf is played world­wide by more than 50 mil­lion peo­ple of all ages, ob­serv­ing: “Play­ing golf can pro­vide mod­er­ate in­ten­sity phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and has over­all pos­i­tive as­so­ci­a­tions with phys­i­cal health and men­tal well­ness, while golf may con­trib­ute to in­creased longevity.”

The study’s lead au­thor was Dr An­drew Mur­ray, chief med­i­cal of­fi­cer of the PGA Euro­pean Tour; Ry­der Cup Europe; the Euro­pean Tour Per­for­mance In­sti­tute; and con­sul­tant in sports medicine at Ed­in­burgh Univer­sity.

In their 2016 study, Dr Mur­ray’s team doc­u­mented phys­i­cal and men­tal ben­e­fits con­ferred by play­ing golf.


The study found that golf has an over­all mod­er­ate risk for in­jury com­pared to other sports, cit­ing an an­nual in­ci­dence of in­jury among am­a­teur golfers of be­tween 15.8 per cent and 40.9 per cent, with pro­fes­sion­als who play more of­ten hav­ing an­nual in­jury rates of be­tween 31 per cent and 90 per cent.

Con­sid­er­ing the pro­fes­sional game, in Oc­to­ber 2018 Mur­ray’s team pub­lished a “Sys­tem­atic re­view of mus­cu­loskele­tal in­juries in pro­fes­sional golfers” in the Bri­tish Jour­nal of Sports Medicine, stat­ing that “pro­fes­sional golfers typ­i­cally hit more than 2,000 balls per week with 73.3 per cent strik­ing 200 balls or more per day on av­er­age. In con­trast, only 19.4 per cent of am­a­teurs hit more than 200 balls per week.”

This, to­gether with the sug­ges­tion that mod­ern-day pro­fes­sional golf swings gen­er­ate in­creased torque, “may con­trib­ute to in­creased rates of lower back pain in pro­fes­sional golfers”.

So what types of in­juries does Dr Mur­ray en­counter most of­ten among pro golfers? “Back, wrist and neck in­juries are the most fre­quent,” Mur­ray told The Ir­ish Times, “with in­juries to the lower back and the left wrist – in right-handed golfers – the most com­mon rea­son for miss­ing tour­na­ments”.

As for am­a­teur golfers, he says, “they have more el­bow in­juries than the pros. Most of the in­juries among pros can be at­trib­uted to their vol­ume of play. Pro swings are in­cred­i­bly con­sis­tent, whereas am­a­teurs have more vari­able swings and tend to ac­quire a wider range of in­juries”.

What should am­a­teurs do to avoid or min­imise in­jury? “Do a warm-up,” ad­vises Mur­ray, “in­clud­ing a few min­utes of aer­o­bic ex­er­cise, some stretch­ing/mo­bil­ity work, and some prac­tice shots be­fore play­ing.”

Mur­ray also rec­om­mends a weekly gym ses­sion .

A 2016 re­view in the jour­nal Retina con­sid­ered 11 sep­a­rate stud­ies of golf-re­lated eye in­juries to 102 golfers. More were in­jured by golf balls (72 per cent) than golf clubs (27 per cent) or for­eign bod­ies (1 per cent), and the au­thors con­cluded: “Re­ported oc­u­lar golf in­juries oc­cur less fre­quently than other oc­u­lar sports in­juries but may re­sult in dev­as­tat­ing out­comes. Su­per­vi­sion of chil­dren us­ing golf equip­ment should be en­cour­aged.”

In Oc­to­ber 2018, the jour­nal Ex­er­cise Medicine pub­lished a re­view of golf and skin health. Co-au­thored by Mur­ray, it notes that “the golf­ing pop­u­la­tion faces an in­creased risk of ul­tra­vi­o­let ra­di­a­tion (UVR) as­so­ci­ated skin prob­lems, most im­por­tantly skin can­cer”.

Rec­om­men­da­tions in­clude recog­nis­ing one’s own skin type and the lib­eral use of sun­screen of SPF 30 or above.

Fi­nally, play­ers should re­frain from lick­ing their golf balls. In 1997, a re­port from Dublin in the jour­nal Gut de­scribed how a re­tired engi­neer con­tracted “golf ball liver” through lick­ing his golf ball clean dur­ing his round. In­ves­ti­ga­tion re­vealed that he had ig­nored signs ad­vis­ing against the lick­ing of golf balls be­cause the se­lec­tive weed killer 2, 4-dichlorophe­noxy­acetic acid had been sprayed on the course. This com­pound was an in­gre­di­ent of Agent Or­ange, a de­fo­liant de­ployed dur­ing the Viet­nam War.

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