What’s Pickleball?

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If you enjoy games such as tennis, badminton and ping-pong, then pickleball might be of interest to you. Considered to be one of the fastest-growing sports of which you have probably never heard, this game involves elements of the aforementioned activities and can be played indoors or outdoors.

Invented in the 1950s, pickleball is played on a badminton-sized court and involves a slightly modified tennis net. Players use paddles and plastic whiffle-like balls. The game can be played as doubles or singles. It can be a relatively fast-paced sport that also involves layers of strategic thinking, as does a chess match on a court. It’s a great workout for people of all ages and skill levels, and, unlike other sports, you can most likely pick up the game and understand its rules within minutes, finding yourself ready to play on day one. An estimated four million people in the United States play pickleball, and it continues to gain popularity among people of all ages, especially older adults.

It’s no secret regular exercise keeps the mind and body fit. It improves the functioning of the heart and circulatory system to better maintain our bodies. Physical activity as we age is vital, and many of the physical issues affecting older adults, such as muscle weakness or loss of balance, are often the result of a sedentary lifestyle. Finding a low-impact activity that won’t put undue strain on your body can be a challenge. Pickleball is not only a fun workout, but it’s also easy on the joints. Plus, it meets a variety of physical and emotional needs for seniors.

A new Western State Colorado University study of 15 middle-aged and older adults found that regular pickleball playing, three times a week for one hour for six weeks in this particular study, resulted in improved blood pressure and cardiorespiratory fitness. Published in the International Journal of Research in Exercise Physiology, the study noted that the game’s moderate level of activity, along with the element of fun, supports it “as an ideal alternative form of physical activity” for this age group.

Enhances Balance and Stability
Because this game works all of the body’s primary muscle groups, it improves balance and stability. As with tennis, there is some running around during the game, but it is also a weight-bearing activity in that players have to support their body weight while doing a variety of movements. Through participation, players can build strength in their arms, legs, back and abdominals. Eye-hand coordination is also accelerated, which can come in handy in other areas of seniors’ lives. Further, the sport can improve physical agility, overall fitness levels and reaction times.

Increases Bone Density
Because many of the movements in pickleball such as squatting require you to work against gravity, exercise-induced bone gain is a benefit for seniors. This, along with the enhanced muscle strength and coordination, can help prevent falls and factures. This translates to fewer injuries that might otherwise result in hospitalization or long periods of inactivity.

Good for the Heart
Playing pickleball on a regular basis can boost cardiovascular health, reduce blood pressure and help to prevent many heart issues by improving blood circulation. A game of pickleball is a great way to fulfill requirements for moderate physical activity.

Aerobic Exercise, Less Risk of Injury
With games that typically last from 10 to 15 minutes, players can take frequent breathers. Plus, since the court is small and most players tend to play doubles, no serious running is involved, making the sport easier on the knees. And, thanks to the lightweight paddle and plastic balls, you’re less likely to sustain an injury such as tennis elbow.

Increases Socialization
Just like good physical health, emotional health is important as we age. Seniors can become isolated later in life, which can lead to depression and other emotional challenges. Loneliness can weaken the immune system while also increasing blood pressure and the production of stress hormones. Further, seniors have a greater risk of illnesses such as dementia, which may require hospitalization. The psychological benefits of playing pickleball can have lasting effects by lowering depression levels and fostering a positive outlook on the aging process. The social connections made through pickleball are immeasurable.

The Best Part?
Pickleball can be a multi-generational sport. If you want to spend time with the kids and the grandkids, this is a great way to involve the whole family in an activity. Kids tend to gravitate toward the fast-paced movements while the older adults enjoy teaching the game to their younger counterparts. No matter who scores the most points, it’s always a win-win for everyone. Just be forewarned: you could become addicted and join a fast-growing group of fellow “picklers.” Please consult your doctor or health care provider before taking up any new activity, however. ■

Sources: head.com, usapickleball.org, healthprep.com and aarp.org.