We all know that exercise is important, and as we age, physical
activity becomes even more valuable for preserving physical and mental
health. However, the prospect of getting regular exercise can be
daunting when it isn’t fun (for example, running countless loops
around a track or climbing a stair stepper to nowhere).
This is where pickleball comes in! Pickleball is the fastest growing
sport in America. It is a combination of tennis, ping-pong and
badminton. Although pickleball was invented in 1965 just outside
Seattle, it has gained increasing popularity in recent years,
especially (but not exclusively) among Baby Boomers. According to the
Sports & Fitness Industry Association, the number of pickleball
players grew 14.8% between 2020 and 2021. In a 2022 report, the Sports
& Fitness Industry Association noted that as of 2022, 4.8 million
Americans played pickleball. And, of the 1.4 million “core”
participants (those who played 8+ times per year), over half were 55+
years of age, and approximately one-third were 65 or older.
Here are some reasons why pickleball is an ideal sport for seniors:
-It is a low-impact sport that is relatively easy on the joints. The
smaller court size (44 by 20 feet) and lower net (compared to tennis)
and plastic, whiffle-like ball make it easier on the hips, knees and
shoulders, compared to other sports like tennis or basketball. To give
you an idea of how small a pickleball court is, you could fit about
four standard pickleball courts on a single tennis court! Pickleball
entails less running and jumping than tennis, making it less likely to
result in injuries. In addition, serving is underhand (not overhand,
like in tennis), which makes the game easier to play and less taxing
on arm muscles.
-It can improve health. Despite being a low-impact sport, it involves
a lot of physical movement and can be fast-paced, making it an
excellent form of cardio exercise. In a 2016 study published in
Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 12 middle-aged players burned
40% more calories playing pickleball for 30 minutes than by walking
for the same amount of time. In addition, a 2018 study in the
International Journal of Research in Exercise Physiology found that
middle-aged and older adults who played one hour of pickleball three
days per week for six weeks improved their blood pressure,
cholesterol, and cardiorespiratory fitness levels. Maintaining a
healthy blood pressure, cholesterol level and cardiovascular system
can help prevent hypertension, stroke and heart attack.
-It provides opportunities to be social. Pickleball is often played
as doubles, and often with complete strangers who just happen to also
be at the same pickleball courts as you. This means that seniors can
make new friends and/or stay connected with family and friends who
also enjoy playing the game.
-It boosts mood and reduces the risk of depression by increasing
endorphins and providing opportunities to socialize. A 2018 study
published in Leisure Studies found that older adults who played in
pickleball tournaments had a lower risk of depression.
-It improves physical coordination and balance. Pickleball requires
the use of quick reflexes and eye-hand/eye-foot coordination. By
playing the sport and improving balance and coordination, seniors can
reduce their risk of falls and injuries.
-It provides mental stimulation. Playing pickleball requires focus,
strategic thinking and quick decision-making. Studies have shown that
mentally stimulating activities can help to improve cognitive function
and reduce the risk of dementia in older adults.
-Pickleball is relatively easy to learn. The rules are fairly simple
– points can only be earned by the side that is serving, and the
winner is the first side to get to 11 points, win by 2 - and the game
is played on a small court with a relatively slow-moving ball, making
it a fun and engaging sport that can be picked up rather quickly by
almost everyone, regardless of age, body type or athletic ability. It
is a sport that can be played competitively or recreationally, and it
provides players with skills to improve upon the more they play.
-It is a relatively inexpensive sport that can be played standing or
in wheelchairs, year-round, both indoors and outdoors. Paddles start
at about $10, balls are about $3 each, and most outdoor courts are
free. Many YMCAs and school gyms provide affordable indoor courts
during the winter. In addition, the Silver Sneakers program, offered
by many Medicare Advantage plans and some Medigap plans, covers gym
membership at many facilities that include pickleball. You can go to
the USA Pickleball Association’s website -
https://www.places2play.org/ - and enter your zip code to find places
to play near you. And, if all else fails, you can always buy a
do-it-yourself pickleball court kit from Amazon.com and convert a
tennis court near you into a pickleball court quite easily! The USA
Pickleball Association’s website even includes “Do it Yourself”
instructions for creating your own pickleball court almost anywhere.
See https://usapickleball.org/what-is-pickleball/court-diagram/do-it-yourself-guidelines/ .
-It is a game that can be played together by people of all ages.
Currently, the average pickleball player’s age is 38, so it is a sport
that can be enjoyed together by individuals of different generations.
Even kids can play the sport!
So, the next time you are thinking you should exercise more but
wishing you could find a fun activity to make the exercise not feel so
grueling, consider trying pickleball.