Oct. 11, 2000 -- The next time you're ready to tee off, consider the results of a new study. Walking the golf course has numerous health benefits for middle-aged adults, according to a recent report in The American Journal of Medicine. But if you decide to forgo the cart, it's a good idea to check with the doctor first, especially if you have risk factors for heart disease.
The findings also shed light on the value of low- to moderate-intensity exercise. "Many studies suggest that vigorous exercise is needed to improve aerobic fitness, but better endurance maybe a more important goal for everyday life," says lead author Jari Parkkari, MD, PhD, chief physician at Finland's Tampere Sports Medicine Research Center. "Walking not only improves endurance, but reduces the risk of heart disease as well," he tells WebMD.
In fact, walking 18 holes twice a week improved many risk factors among men. "By burning 1,750 calories a round, HDL 'good cholesterol' rose 5%, LDL 'bad cholesterol' fell 4%, and total cholesterol fell 2%. They also lost 5 lb and reduced abdominal fat by 8%, all in five months," Parkkari says. Of course, pulling a handcart full of golf clubs for 10 miles a week isn't a good idea for everyone.
"Because walking doubles the load on the heart, it can cause symptoms quicker in those at risk for [heart problems]," says cardiologist and marathon runner Paul Robinson, MD, a 67-year-old associate professor at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. "Most middle-aged adults can start a walking program without any difficulty," he cautions, "but check with your doctor if you're a smoker or have any of these risk factors":
- Family history of hardening of the arteries,
- High blood pressure or high cholesterol,
- Chronic chest pain,
- Previous heart attack.
"If you're at risk, your doctor can give you an exercise prescription," Robinson tells WebMD. "And even if you don't have risk factors, but have been physically inactive, it's probably a good idea to just walk nine holes at first. And by all means, get help quickly if you develop any of the following symptoms," he advises:
- Breathlessness, discomfort, or restlessness,
- Pain anywhere between your jaw and your belt,
- Any symptom that makes you stop in your tracks.
In the study, Parkkari followed more than 100 healthy men aged 48 to 64. All had been inactive for seven months or more. Half of the men in the study were instructed to play golf and walk the course two to three times a week. Before and after the five-month study, the researchers measured their blood pressure, body fat, and cholesterol levels.
Even though blood pressure remained about the same, golfers with the highest readings at the beginning of the study showed the biggest improvement. Not surprisingly, they also lost about an inch in their waist size, causing the authors to conclude that walking just doesn't have a downside.
And if you get teed off when behind a foursome on foot, keep in mind that anger isn't good for your heart, either.