People who play golf once a month may have a lower risk of heart attack and stroke, study finds

  • A new study shows golfing at least once a month was found to lower the risk of death in older adults.
  • The study authors were motivated by a desire to get golf on the list of the U.S. Department of Health's recommended physical activities.
  • The study showed that 8.1% of the golfers had strokes, compared to 15.1% of the non-golfers. In addition, 9.8% of the golfers had heart attacks, compared to 24.6% of the non-golfers.

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Golfing at least once a month may lower a person's risk of early death, according to new research presented on Wednesday at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference 2020.

The sport, a favorite of presidents from Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Coolidge to Barack Obama, and Donald Trump, is a gentle activity, with very few opportunities for high-intensity exercise.

But study, by researchers at the University of Missouri, found any activity that gets older adults active and socializing monthly, weekly or daily is enough to reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack. 

Researchers analyzed 10 years of data on 5,900 over-65-year-olds between 1989 and 1999, all of whom visited a clinic every six months.

They found that just 8.1% of the 384 golfers (people who golfed at least once a month) had strokes over the 10-year period, compared to 15.1% of the non-golfers. In addition, 9.8% of the golfers had heart attacks, compared to 24.6% of the non-golfers.

The results, the researchers said, are significant — but added it is also significant that golf is a sport that attracts wealthy people, who tend to have better healthcare and lower risks of strokes and heart attacks. 

The study authors want golf to be included in the US Department of Health's list of physical activity recommendations

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Some 25 million Americans play golf, which can reduce stress and offer an opportunity for regular exercise.

But that's not enough to satisfy the US Department of Health that they're getting real exercise: it is not on the government's list of sports that qualify as legitimate ways to work out.

Golf burns more calories than fishing or canoeing, but that is only for people playing without carts or caddies. It can even be played with a broken leg, as Tiger Woods did in 2009.

As such, golf has inspired fierce debates over whether it qualifies as a sport. Golf was even removed from the Olympic games for 112 years between 1904 and 2016. 

"Golf isn't a sport; it's a skill much like bowling," lawyer Larry Atkins wrote in a controversial op-ed for The Chicago Tribune in 2002, after Tiger Woods won his third Masters. "It's an activity that older people take up when their knees go bad and they can't play real sports like basketball, baseball and football anymore." 

For lead study author Adnan Qureshi, professor of neurology at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri, the findings clearly show goal is beneficial.  

"The US Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans does not yet include golf in the list of recommended physical activities," Qureshi said. "Therefore, we are hopeful our research findings could help to expand the options for adults to include golf."

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