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How Golf Can Help Your Mental Wellbeing

By: | Wed 20 May 2020

IT IS Mental Health Awareness Week - and never have we been more aware of our mental health than we are right now.

There is little doubt that, for tens of thousands of people, being able to get out and play golf again has had a positive impact on their wellbeing.

I have no problems with admitting that I have struggled to keep mind, body and soul together these past few weeks. I live on my own and it has not been a barrel of laughs. We are social animals, designed and built to interact with other human beings. Physical contact keeps us going - when we meet somebody we haven’t seen for a while the first thing that we do is give them a huge cuddle.

And there is little doubt that golf has a positive impact on our mental and physical wellbeing. You only have to read all the comments on social media that followed the great reopening of England’s courses last week to realise that this is the case. Most club golfers couldn’t wait to get out there and, almost without exception, you all loved every minute of being back out there. It gave you all a huge boost.

There has been a huge amount of research into the subject and this seems like the ideal time to look at some of those benefits.

A round of golf involves exercise, time outdoors, getting back in touch with nature, fresh air, the establishment of long and lasting friendships, the building of new relationships, recreation, relaxation and stress management. These are known as TLCs or Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes and considerable evidence now points to their effectiveness in both clinical and normal populations. It is now believed that TLCs are sometimes as or more effective as either psychotherapy or medication.

Playing a round of golf takes about four hours and involves walking around five miles - the benefits of this are obvious, especially with the sun on your back.

The distance walked is important as the NHS recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate activity a week – in the case of golf, this is easily achieved in just a single round.

Wrist and body flexibility is important in golf – being able to twist your body and having the strength and power to hit the ball long distances is necessary to play well. The fitter and more physically able you are, the more positive you feel in yourself, and the happier you feel.

Being physically active for such a sustained period of time provides serious psychological and physical benefits. It helps to combat things such as depression and anxiety, and there is evidence that it also helps in the fight against conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

For older golfers it also helps to reduce age-related memory loss. Exercise increases brain volume and blood flow, self-esteem, enhances sleep and mood and reduces negative thoughts and rumination. Essentially our brains are better regulated and function at a higher level post exercise. Many of us have struggled to sleep during the current lockdown - I am willing to bet a sizeable amount of money that most of you who have found your way back onto the golf course are now sleeping rather better.

Playing golf enhances cognitive, attentional, emotional, spiritual and subjective well-being. The added bonus of this is the social element of the game - obviously, with us having to play in two balls at present and with clubhouses being closed, the social aspect is not quite what it was. But it has given us the opportunity to catch up with friends we haven’t seen for weeks, and that can only have a positive impact on our mental wellbeing.

It seems pretty obvious to say that developing and maintaining relationships enhances happiness and quality of life. Mental health care professionals often target enhancing the number and quality of individuals’ relationships and golf is the ideal sport to develop such quality relationships, even in the current climate.

And then, of course, there is the challenge the game provides. Golf is a sport that calls for decision-making and planning, not to mention the physical effort involved.

The World Health Organisation found that positive interpersonal interactions and social participation are crucial protective factors from developing mental health problems. Additionally, relaxing outdoors and interacting with people reduces your stress levels – this keeps blood pressure at normal limits and reduces the risk of a stroke.

A recent study found that when people’s minds were constantly wandering, they reported a feeling of being less happy. Being able to focus on the task at hand means the mind is engaged and less likely to drift to negative or stressful thoughts, making a round of golf the perfect way to unwind. There is also the challenge of trying to beat your previous best score.

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Professor Jenny Roe is an environmental psychologist and the inaugural Mary Irene DeShong Professor of Design and Health and the Director of the Centre of Design and Health at the Architecture School, University of Virginia.

She believes that one of great contributory factors when it comes to mental wellbeing - or lack of it - owes much to the sedentary lives most of us now have, spending hours in front of computer screens and on social media.

She says, “I think the modern mental health crisis is a problem with many different facets and angles to it. One of which is certainly the digital revolution. We are being inundated with digital media, meaning people today are always multitasking, always doing two or three things at the same time.”

And she believes that golf can help simply because of the environment in which it is played. She says: "You literally manage stress more efficiently when you are around green space. Your mood improves. And when your mood improves that allows space for other things to improve, including your creativity, your cognitive flexibility and your ability to strategize.

“We know it helps relieve depression, anxiety and anger. We know it helps performance, relieving brain fog and mental fatigue. And when it comes to exercise, which is great for mental health in itself, there’s a huge wealth of evidence, using robust, scientific methods, to show the benefits of ‘green exercise’ – exercise in the natural outdoors – as compared to, say, exercise in the gym or indoors.”

It is generally accepted that there are five key areas in which golf is beneficial:

  1. It reduces anxiety and promotes physical and mental wellbeing
  2. You benefit from social interaction - even playing in a twoball
  3. Playing regularly reduces the effect of depression
  4. It lowers stress levels - hard to believe, perhaps, but true
  5. It provides a form of therapy - we all need to find something that helps us relax, something to look forward to

On top of all of that, those of who play it know that it is addictive in the best possible way. And no matter how poorly we play, there will always be one shot that will bring us back.

What do you think? post your thoughts and feedback on the Golfshake Forum: https://forum.golfshake.com/

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