A fairway to keep your brain sharp! Playing golf in your old age could help your mental agility and stave off dementia due to long walks between holes, study suggests
- The brain health effects are likely to come from the exercise involved in walking
A round of golf in retirement could make you mentally sharper.
Researchers recruited 25 people over the age of 65 and tested their thinking skills after completing 18 holes on a golf course.
The volunteers carried out a test of quick thinking almost five seconds faster after playing golf, compared to before heading out.
The brain health effects are likely to come from the exercise involved in walking a golf course, as well as the strategic thinking at the heart of the game.
But those who agree with the old joke that golf is a good walk spoiled can take heart, as walking almost four miles (6km) also appeared to boost people’s mental sharpness in later life.
Researchers recruited 25 people over the age of 65 and tested their thinking skills after completing 18 holes on a golf course (stock photo)
Dr Julia Kettinen, who led the study from the University of East Finland, and is a professional golf teacher, said: ‘There is a reason that lots of retired people play golf, and it is really good exercise and good for your health, with a much lower risk of injury than playing tennis or skiing.
‘These results suggest playing golf could keep people mentally sharper, which may be useful in warding off dementia.
‘It is also encouraging that people who don’t like golf can go for a walk and get the benefits of aerobic exercise that way.’
The study, published in the journal BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, recruited people who were already golfers, averaging two rounds a week during the summer.
But their mental abilities were found to improve directly after an 18-hole round, in which they pulled a golf trolley carrying their clubs behind them.
This was tested using the deceptively simple-sounding test of using a pencil to draw a line linking a jumble of numbers, from one to 25, in ascending order.
Actually the test is quite difficult, as people are not allowed to remove the pencil from the paper and have to think fast, doing it as quickly as possible.
The brain health effects are likely to come from the exercise involved in walking a golf course, as well as the strategic thinking at the heart of the game (stock photo)
After a round of golf, the study participants did the test 4.4 seconds faster on average than before playing.
On a different day, when they were asked to go for a 6km walk instead, they did the test almost 6.8 seconds faster afterwards on average.
Researchers also asked people to do fashionable Nordic walking, which requires using poles placed in front of the body at the same time as each step, so may be more demanding on the brain.
The test was completed 4.6 seconds faster after this activity.
Researchers also used a more complicated test to judge older people’s memory, mental agility and executive function – the mental skill involved in everyday decision-making.
This involved linking the numbers one to 13 in ascending order, and the letters A to M, but while alternating between letters and numbers as fast as possible.
In this test, 6km of Nordic walking seemed to boost people’s brains the most, with people doing it 9.6 seconds faster after this activity.
That compared to an improvement of almost 7.6 seconds for walking, which may be less of a workout for the brain, because no coordination of poles and feet is needed.
Golf appeared not to help people with this second test, which may because the round of golf took around three hours, compared to an hour of walking, so people might have been more mentally worn out.
The researchers conclude that all three types of exercise appear to be good for the brain.
The golfers in the study completed the tests approximately 60 per cent faster than the average previously seen for the general public, suggesting there are long-term benefits of playing the game for several years.
A previous study by the same research team, earlier this year, found golf, walking 6km and Nordic walking for 6km improved cardiovascular health in older adults, including by lowering blood pressure.
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