Golf and health
Does marketing of golf as part of a healthy lifestyle lead to more golfers and rounds played? Quite likely, and especially if we increase our knowledge about golf and health.
Health and exercise
There are many studies in the world that show that regular exercise is good for your health and well-being. In an American study of approximately 3.000 diabetes patients from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it was shown that the mortality sunk with 39% in the group that exercised 30 minutes five times a week.
A regular dosage of exercise is the most likely reason we all get fewer diseases and in general live a healthier and longer life.
A sedentary lifestyle isn't good for us
Most of us sit too much, exercise too little and the trend is going the wrong way. Golf is a great outdoor and health benefit unless you use a golf cart. Very few need one.
In the English newspaper the Telegraph, an article published in 2013 says that people today walk around 80 miles (approximately 130 kilometers) less per year than ten years ago. A researcher calls this reduced physical exercise a silent epidemic.
More research about golf and health is needed
A research report titled Golf: a game of life and death - reduced mortality in Swedish golf players was published in 2008 in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine
& Science in Sports. Karolinska Institutet presented this study in a press release with the headline Golf prolongs life. The main conclusion of the report - read it here - is that
The death rate for golfers is 40 percent lower than for other people of the same sex, age, and socioeconomic status. This corresponds to a 5-year increase in life expectancy.
Unfortunately, the research report does not have enough data to support its conclusions. Playing golf - unless you use a cart - is good for your health, but your general level of regular physical activity is the decisive factor.
Conclusions of the study
While we cannot conclude with certainty that all the 40% decreased mortality rates that we observe in the golf cohort are explained by the physical activity associated with playing golf, we conclude that most likely this is part of the explanation.
My view is; To say that something (some factor) most likely is part of an explanation, is a very weak statement. It is, in fact, another way of saying that you don't know very much. A next natural question would be: how valid is this part explanation and what other factors may be relevant?
Validity and reliability
The authors of the study have also raised issues of a possible impact of socioeconomic factors and the selection of people who start playing golf. These factors were not found to have an influence on their conclusions. But more important is the issue of the Validity (Wikipedia) of the study. Has the study measured what it set out to measure and what the title of the research paper suggests?
In Sweden and many other countries, the number of golfers has gone down steadily each year for close to a decade. The number of bikes sold increases and every person who uses a bike - and retain a membership in a golf club - erodes the validity of the discussed study.
One has to differentiate between sets of data that show a form of covariance and possible causal effects.
Henrik Ohlsson, a researcher in biostatistics at the Clinical Research Center at the University of Lund, says about the KI-report.
This report is a typical example of how you easily confuse effects. With the data the authors have, it is impossible to separate the effects of golf from possible effects of a general physical activity.
Matthew Richardson, Head of Department of Knowledge Development at
The Swedish National Institute of Public Health, says about the KI-report
The study is based on register data which makes it difficult to separate covariation for different types of behavior, especially for those that are not included.
On research about Golf and Health
One has to do more research, and of a different kind, if one wants to shed more light on the relation between playing golf and health. Golf is perhaps not .. a game of life and death .., but more golf is certainly good for your health. It is our hope that more research will tell us more about the physical and psychological effects of walking on golf courses and playing golf
How much do golfers walk?
In Sweden golfers on average play slightly less than ten full rounds per year indicating that quite a lot of people play much fewer rounds. Due to weather conditions most rounds in Sweden are played in May to September. Let's assume that a full round of golf is eight kilometers (~5 miles). Thus, the average golfer walks some 100 kilometers (~60 miles) - let's be generous - per year on the golf course. The average walking speed is ~2 km/h (~1.2 miles/h), assuming a golf round of four hours. This low volume of exercise, its uneven distribution over the year and the low speed, makes it reasonable to look for other activities, beyond golf, when looking for explanations to the above discussed research study.
More knowledge is needed and golf would benefit from a simple and trustworthy health story.