What do you do if someone tries a falafel while keeping a flat face, or maybe a poach while you’re in the kitchen?

If you know what I’m referring to then you’re one of five million players of America’s fastest growing sport – pickleball. It’s played by people of all ages, is fun, highly accessible – you can even play in a wheelchair – and is especially popular with older folk.

What’s more, it also offers a multitude of health benefits.

Pickleball was invented in the U.S. in 1965, so it’s taken a long time to get off the ground, but it looks set to continue its rapid upward thrust.

The game is a mix of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong. It’s played by two or four players (called picklers) on a small court, so there’s not much ground to cover. It uses rectangular, sold-faced bats that are shorter and lighter than a tennis racket, and a plastic ball with holes in it that’s less bouncy and doesn’t fly fast through the air. Serves – you call out “pickle” before you serve – are underhand making them easier to hit and return and there are good gaps to get your breath back if you get winded during play.

Being such a sociable and fun game with many advantages over conventional – hard work – sports, its popularity with seniors comes as no surprise.

And it’s chock full of health benefits too.

Improves Cardiorespiratory Fitness

Researchers from Western State Colorado University analyzed fifteen men and women aged from 40 to 85 who played four doubles sessions lasting 15 minutes each, every other day. At the end of six weeks there were favorable changes in cholesterol, blood pressure, and maximal oxygen uptake.

They wrote that pickleball improves cardiorespiratory fitness and is “an ideal alternative form of physical activity for middle-aged and older adults.”

Another study found that compared to walking, the doubles version increased average heart rates by nearly 14 percent, peak heart rates by nearly 19 percent, burned up 36 percent more calories, increased perceived exertion by 44 percent and enjoyment levels by 150 percent. The researchers concluded that “playing pickleball may be a suitable physical activity to improve and maintain physical fitness.”

“Contribute[s] to Successful Aging”

In a third study of 153 picklers aged 50 and over, participants reported an improvement in their well-being. The researchers believe the sport “may add significant value to older adults’ daily lives and contribute to successful aging.”

The final study was carried out by academics at Utah State University who recruited 20 inactive participants between the ages of 50 and 75 from across three rural Utah counties. All played pickleball in pairs for one hour, three times a week, for a total of six weeks. The researchers found the following:

  • Better brain health and cognitive function: Players experienced a small but significant increase in cognitive function with improvements in memory, attention, verbal function, and information processing speed.
  • Improved muscle function: Players experienced a significant increase in skills related to moving and coordinating the muscles of the body. In fact, among participants vertical jump height increased by a dramatic 11 percent.
  • Reduced pain and discomfort: Players revealed a slight but significant reduction in self-reported pain.

Fun, Easy-to-Learn

In post-study interviews the participants reported that pickleball was enjoyable, easy to learn and participate in, even when not in the best of shape. What’s more, playing the sport improved their overall sense of well-being, and resulted in daily chores seeming less strenuous and daunting. Best of all, participants agreed pickleball was sociable, fun, and they wanted to keep on playing.

“Overall,” the researchers wrote, “pickleball appears to be a promising intervention to, (1) elicit functional- and cognitive-related improvements, and (2) motivate mid-life and older adults to adhere to exercise sufficiently long to benefit their health.”

So, if you’re interested in performing a dillball or flabjack and maybe calling out OPA while avoiding a volley llama, it’s time to get involved. There are more than 38,000 indoor and outdoor courts in the U.S. To find one in your area go to https://www.places2play.org/

  1. https://ijrep.org/the-acute-and-chronic-physiological-responses-to-pickleball-in-middle-aged-
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0765159722000454?via%3Dihub 
  3. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/17439760.2017.1374438 
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8391496/