It’s not just a “waste of a good walk”: Golf really is exercise. And in one review of 301 studies, scientists found that a round of golf may actually be better exercise than walking.
How Do METs Measure Exercise?
It’s all about METs—not the baseball team, but “metabolic equivalents.” When you see METs on an exercise machine, it’s referring to this measure of how much oxygen is consumed during exercise … and consequently, how many calories your body’s burning. One MET is equal to the amount of oxygen used while at your resting heart rate—loafing on the sofa, for instance. An activity that is measured as 2 METs uses double that amount of oxygen. If it’s 3 METs, it’s tripled, and so on.
In an average of more than 300 studies, scientists found that golfing was an activity worth 4.8 METs. That edged out walking at 3.5 mph, which averaged 4.3 METs. So golf isn’t just good exercise—it’s potentially a slightly better exercise than walking!
Need more reasons to hit the links? Here are five ways you’ll get health benefits from 18 holes.
1. You’ll get 10,000 steps—and more!
The goal of 10,000 steps is actually arbitrary—it was first created as a goal to market pedometers in the 1960s. But there is a benefit to counting your steps: In a study of older people in Japan, those who took more than 7,972 steps per day were less likely to die over the period studied than those who took fewer than 4,503 steps per day. And getting more than that number can help you burn more calories and reach more fitness goals.
The good news? A round of golf smashes that 7,900 step number: In a British study, scientists found that walking for 18 holes tallied between 11,245 and 16,667 steps for the average golfer. Even those who rode in carts got significant steps—around 6,000 per golfer. All of these numbers are fewer than you’d get from just walking, but if you enjoy golfing, it’s a great way to boost your step count.
2. You can get almost a full week of medium-intensity cardio in a single round!
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that adults do at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity cardio activity—doing so could reduce your risk of early death by as much as 30 percent!
For middle-aged golfers and older, golf is considered a moderate- or high-intensity bout of exercise, relative to their normal activity. And if your round takes 2.5 hours or more, you’ve tackled a whole week of exercise in a single round! It’s still good to try to exercise on most days, though. So play some more golf, or check out these 10 activities that are logged the most often in our activity-tracking app, NuMi!
3. Pulling your clubs instead of carrying them can increase your burn even more.
This seems counter-intuitive, but it’s probably based on the speed at which you’ll walk: Using a pull cart averages more METs, at 5.3, than carrying your bag while walking (4.3 METs). Both methods beat using a golf cart, which averages only 3.5 METs.
One MET is equivalent to 1 calorie burned per kilogram of body weight per hour. So to calculate how many calories burned during an activity, we multiply the number of METs times the person’s body weight in kilograms times the time spent in hours.
So let’s say you weigh 200 pounds—about 90 kilograms—and you golf for 2 hours. If you carry your clubs, that’s 90 * 2 * 4.3, for a total of 774 calories burned. If you use a pull cart, it’s 90 * 2 * 5.3 … for a much higher total of 954 calories burned! In short, spending a few bucks to rent the pull cart can make a huge difference in how much you burn on the course.
4. It could help with your mental health, too!
Golf can be so frustrating that it seems like this can’t possibly true, but it can help with your mental well-being, too! That’s largely because of social interaction: In one study of seniors, golfing with a group was related to lower depressive symptoms, excellent self-assigned ratings of health, and, best of all, laughing more often.
Hitting the links is also considered a “green exercise,” a term used for exercising in nature. Like “forest bathing,” a practice of spending time relaxing in nature, “green exercise” has been found to provide mental health benefits. Because golf takes more concentrated attention than walking in the woods, the benefits aren’t as pronounced, but you’ll still get some natural world benefits from your round. Plus, if it’s sunny outside, you can get some much needed vitamin D!
5. Golf could help you live five years longer.
Studies have found that risk factors for heart disease and stroke, including cholesterol levels and blood pressure, are reduced in regular golfers—similar to walking, which offers a host of disease-busting benefits. So it’s not surprising that golf may help you live longer.
What is surprising: That “longer” could be five whole years. In a study using data from 300,000 golfers, Swedish scientists determined that the beneficial health effects of golf lowered the death rate of golfers by 40 percent—equivalent to a life expectancy increase of half a decade. So golf isn’t a waste of time: It may actually give you more!