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How Golf helps you live longer and healthier

Ilona Madden - RightFood4U - Nutrition Programmes - Bray Wicklow Dublin

Written by Ilona Madden

October 16, 2023

Golf for longevity

When we think why golf might be good for us, most people will think it’s because of the exercise you’re getting while out there. But most other sports involve some form of movement that is healthy and contributes to a longer life. What makes golf different is that it works on many more levels.

You might have heard of the “Blue Zone” countries, which are 5 countries across the globe that have one thing in common – the people there live longer without any of the modern diseases.

Scientist have been studying these countries and the habit of these people and have identified 9 lifestyle habits they all have in common:

  1. Natural Movement
  2. Sense of purpose
  3. Slowing down or stress management
  4. 80% rule
  5. Plant-centred diet
  6. Wine
  7. Social network
  8. Spirituality
  9. Family first

I would like to go through each of these habits and relate these to golf, but even if you are not a golfer, I’m a sure this article is interesting if you want to live a healthy, long life.

I am sure we all don’t just want to live a long life, but rather a long, happy and healthy life. No matter who you ask, nobody wants to live a long life with no quality of life left. So, implementing these 9 steps can help you life for as long as possible as healthy as possible.

  1. Natural movement

While none of the Blue Zone communities play golf, they do spend a lot of time during the day being active: walking, climbing hills and mountains, gardening, working around the house and field, many don’t even have modern equipment such as washing machines or lawn mowers.

Golf is a low impact sport that involves being out in nature for about 4 hours and involves movement of the swing and walking. That’s why if at all possible, it’s best to play golf without a buggy.

  1. Sense of purpose

Golf gives your walk a sense of purpose. In Japan they have a word “Ikigai” which translate as “why I wake up in the morning”. People who have a purpose in life, such as a hobby, a fulfilling career, a responsibility to care for family, other people or animals seem to be overall happier, have more self-esteem and a more positive outlook in life.

But it’s not just the game of golf itself and the “goal” of playing well. Being part in a golf club or the wider golf community can give you an opportunity to become involved in helping the club, coaching the younger generation, supporting club teams, being a member on a committee, taking on leadership roles in the club or society, helping others enjoy the sport, etc. All of these activities help golfers get this sense of purpose.

  1. Stress management

While some golfers say a bad round of golf can be stressful, generally, a round of golf helps you de-stress. When you are completely focused on your game, it takes your mind away from the stresses and worries of your daily life.

Stress is one of the single most contributor to all chronic disease as it causes inflammation and reduces your immune system. People who actively get involved in activities that help live longer and healthier.

Obviously, golf isn’t the only activity that can help de-stress, other methods, such as meditation, mindfulness practises, having a nap, praying, yoga, spending time in nature (golf does that as well) and time with friends (golf can do that as well) are all ways to reduce your cortisol levels.

We can’t avoid stress in our lives, but we can all learn to better deal with stressful situations and then don’t become reactive anymore.

The interesting thing is also that in order to improve your golf, you need to work on reducing stress and tension. So, maybe the goal to play better golf needs to also involve working on reducing your stress levels.

  1. Social networks 

Loneliness can be a major contributor to premature death as some studies have found out recently. Social connectedness is particularly important for maintaining psychological and physical well-being in old age. A strong social support and network helps older people retain independence, give a stronger sense of purpose and is seems to slow down cognitive decline compared to those who live socially isolated.

Golfers are often members in a club or in a society where there are strong social networks. You can arrive at your golf club at any time and you meet people of your “tribe”. You have something in common and immediately something to talk about. You always find someone who is happy to go out with you – even if you don’t particularly like that person.

Being a golfer, you will always have a social network also when you go on holidays. You can go on your own but will always find someone that you can join on the timesheet.

  1. Spirituality

It was found that the people in the Blue Zones have a strong faith, even though they have different religious backgrounds. It is safe to say though that they all share a strong spirituality. And while you can’t directly say that golf is a very spiritual activity, it actually is. There have been many books written on the mindset of golf and what golf can teach us about life.

How we approach golf can show us how we approach life, and that in itself makes it very spiritual.

“Golf is the closest game to the game we call life. You get bad breaks from good shots; you get good breaks from bad shots – but you have to play the ball where it lies.” –

Bobby Jones

  1. Family first 

Family plays an important role in the lives of people living in the Blue Zones, and it’s not just parents spending a lot of time with their children and couples spending time together, it’s also that grandparents stay in the house of the family and are cared for by the bigger families.

Golf is a game that can be played by all ages and you can play together because of the handicapping system. It’s a great way where grandparents can spend 4 hours with their children, where the whole family can get involved on holidays and where the whole family can share a great day or holiday together in one healthy activity.

  1. 80% rule

Golf in itself is obviously not a game that involves eating or drinking, but a lot of people eat or drink on the golf course, and would have something to eat before and after the game.

A huge part of my programmes and workshops “Nourish your Golf” is how we can eat better to play better golf. One of my recommendations is to get away from constantly snacking and drinking energy drinks on the golf course, and rather have a good substantial meal before hand and a replenishing meal after the round, and only have one (healthy) snack should the time in between the two be more than 4 hours.

The 80% rule says that people only eat until they are only 80% full, rather than being stuffed or eating something the moment you feel a little bit peckish.

Eating less is proven to help live longer as it helps your body to better digest and absorb food and reduce inflammation. It also helps balance your blood sugar better and helps your body tap into fat reserves.

While this 80% is specifically referred to eating until your 80% full, I also always recommend my clients to apply the 80-20 rule. Eat well 80% of the time, but also “allow” yourself the odd unhealthy food or drink. I fully believe that in today’s time, it’s impossible to always stick 100% to what you “should” be doing – unless of course you are highly motivated because of a goal (high-performance sports person or someone who needs to follow a specific diet due to health reasons, i.e. diabetics, celiacs, cancer patients etc).

  1. Plant-centric diet

You don’t need to be a full vegetarian or vegan to live on a plant-centric diet. The issue with modern diets is not that we are simply eating too much meat but rather that we are not eating sufficient vegetables. Most people in the Western world don’t get enough nutrients in their diet because they don’t eat enough vegetables.

Vegetables are not only packed with vitamins and minerals, they also contain important phyto-nutrients and fibre. These are all building blocks that contribute to our bodies functioning properly, our immune-systems firing off invaders and rogue cells, our liver to detox the ever increasing amounts of toxins we’re exposed to and to our neurotransmitters in our brains working optimally to keep us happy and our minds sharp.

Most of the people in the Blue Zones actually grow their own vegetables which helps keep them active as well by gardening. Growing your own veg in itself is a wonderful activity and it also ensures that you are not using any pesticides and herbicides and that your soil is richer. If you can’t grow your own, at least make sure, you are buying most of your veg organic. It might be more expensive but you get so much more value for your money!

I am lucky that I can combine my trip to my local golf club with a visit to our Organic Farm in Wicklow where I buy my fruit and vegetables.

In my “Nourish your Golf” programmes, I also supply tips on how you can get more vegetables into your life, even on the golf course.

The “diet” that I recommend to most of  my clients is un-disputedly the most healthy diet and most researched diet: A Mediterranean diet, rich in vegetables, small amounts of meat, lots of fish and good quality olive oil, nuts & seeds.

  1. Wine consumption 

This of course, is my favourite! I do love a glass of good red wine, and it is very much part of the Mediterranean diet. There was only one area of the 5 Blue Zones that didn’t drink alcohol at all, but all the others do.

It’s about the quantity of course, and daily consumption of alcohol might not be the best, but there is also no need to completely cut it out. I have often said that a glass of wine together with friends can have more benefits that being lonely on your own doing the “healthy” thing.

Red wine has many healthy properties that are beneficial for most people. So, enjoy a glass of red wine with your golfing buddies after a round of golf and relax!

 

To summarise, as you can see, all 9 healthy habits of the longest living people can be applied to golf. As someone who loves the game, I can see how it has helped me over the years and I would love to see especially more women getting into the game and enjoying the benefits of being part of this community.

As always, I’d love to hear your comments and views on this blog.

 

 

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