If you want to live longer, play golf

Working on your short game might have more benefits than lowering your score next time you’re out on the golf course.

Forget the cardio that comes with walking 18 or working on burying your tee shot down the middle of the fairway, just one round of golf a month can lower older adults’ overall risk of death, according to a new study.

With The Masters (and it’s no-phone policy) fast approaching and 25 million adults getting ready for warmer golf weather in the US, it might be a good time for older adults to take a swing if they want to add a little physical activity in their lives, according to the findings, which will be presented at the American Stroke Association International Stroke Conference in Los Angeles later in February.

“Our study is perhaps the first of its kind to evaluate the long-term health benefits of golf, particularly one of the most popular sports among older people in many countries,” Dr. Adnan Qureshi, lead author of the study and a professor of neurology at the University of Missouri, said in a statement. “The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans does not yet include golf in the list of recommended physical activities. Therefore, we are hopeful our research findings could help to expand the options for adults to include golf.”

Researchers used data collected during the Cardiovascular Health Study, which tracked heart disease and stroke in nearly 5,900 adults over the age of 65 between a 10-year period (1989-1999). Participants had annual exams and clinic visits every six months over the period and were contacted by researchers to see if they had any heart-related health incidents during the time frame.

For a basis, the study said that individuals who golfed at least once a month were considered regular golfers.

From the pool of participants, there were 384 regular golfers, according to the study. Out of that sample size, 8% of golfers suffered a stroke, while nearly 10% had a heart attack. But when comparing death rates, those who golfed regularly had a significantly lower rate of death — nearly 10% — in comparison to participants who were not golfers.

Qureshi noted that golf provided an outlet for both exercise and a competitive edge, which isn’t easily obtainable for older adults.

“While walking and low-intensity jogging may be comparable exercise, they lack the competitive excitement of golf,” Qureshi said. “Regular exercise, exposure to a less polluted environment and social interactions provided by golf are all positive for health. Another positive is that older adults can continue to play golf, unlike other more strenuous sports such as football, boxing, and tennis. Additional positive aspects are stress relief and relaxation, which golf appears better suited for than other sports.”

While the study’s findings might encourage older adults to take a shot at hitting a hole-in-one, this isn’t the first study to link golf and its health benefits. A study conducted by Harvard researchers in 2004 found that the benefits of walking an average course can amount to a total of four miles in cardio. That doesn’t account for holding your bag during a round, which can also burn more calories.

Cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure levels have also been found to be improved by playing golf, according to a separate study.