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Aging Well: Golfing drives good health for all ages

Playing golf regularly offers a variety of benefits, including greater longevity and better cognition.

This biweekly column is sponsored by The Mather in Tysons, Virginia, a forward-thinking Life Plan Community for those 62 and better.

Golfing is more than a pleasant pastime: research has shown that regular golf games can offer proven benefits that substantially improve your physical and mental health.

One reason to keep playing: a regular golf schedule can add years to your life — literally. A Swedish study of data on 300,000 golfers found that those who played regularly had a five-year increase in life expectancy over non-golfers of the same age, gender, and socioeconomic status.

Sally Wallace of Fairfax County is a beginning golfer who took up the sport partly for the fact that she will be able to play it later in life. “Someone suggested golf as a social sport, and one that I can do for the rest of my life — it can keep me active,” she says. Even as she prepares to move to The Mather, a Life Plan Community for those 62 and better that’s opening in Tysons in early 2024, she’s embracing her new hobby, and plans to sign up for private lessons with a golf pro. “My goal is to play on a team next June,” she says.

Sally currently lives in suburban area near the main campus of George Mason University, and next spring, will move about 10 miles to The Mather, which is located in a walkable urban neighborhood by Tysons Galleria. “I’m looking forward to the change — I almost can’t wait!” she says. Sally is looking forward to meeting other golfers there, so she can continue to enjoy her new hobby.

Here are some tips on making the most of your time on the green:

  1. If possible, skip the golf cart. Better yet, skip the caddy. If you play an 18-hole course three to five times a week and walk rather than ride, researchers estimate you’ll get the optimal amount of endurance exercise for good heart health.
  2. Get your brain in the game. Golf can also improve your brain health. Not only does the physical exercise stimulate nerve cell connections — which can delay mental deterioration and even dementia — the mental aspects of the game can keep cognition sharp. Tallying scores, planning strategy, and focusing on hand-eye coordination all provide healthy workouts for your brain.
  1. Make it a social game. Getting together with friends and acquaintances has been proven to improve mental health and brain health. So, make the most of socializing during (or before and after) a golf game — catch up on news, share a joke, or make plans for future games.

“I’m a runner, a walker, a swimmer, and a weight-lifter — but those are all solitary pursuits,” says Sally. “I’m looking for that social component. And everyone at the driving range seems very encouraging and welcoming. Golfers seem like a good group to be part of.”

  1. Let go of stress. Participating in an activity you enjoy, which requires concentration, can release mood-boosting endorphins in the brain. This immediately makes you feel happier and more relaxed. And during the periods of time you spend eliminating or forgetting stress, you are actually reversing its negative effects on your body and brain.
  1. Enjoy the outdoors. Simply being outside has a positive effect on your mood. Research has shown that regular exposure to “green areas” can cause our bodies to relax and let go of stress, as well as ease anxiety. One study showed that those who exercise outdoors rather than inside experienced greater mood elevation and actually exercised for longer periods of time.

The Mather in Tysons, VA, for those 62 and better, is a forward-thinking Life Plan Community that defies expectations of what senior living is supposed to be. It opens in early 2024.

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