The 20 Surprising Health Benefits of Playing Pickleball for Seniors
Most people play pickleball because it’s just fun. However, there exists a positive side effect to having that fun and it comes in the form of health benefits. Getting off the couch and onto the court offers a range of health perks, including mental health.
While pickleball is less strenuous than playing tennis, before you lace up your pickleball shoes and hit the court, it’s important for seniors to check with their doctor and let their primary care physician know what they're planning to do and make sure they’re cleared for this type of exercise.
This article will cover the mental and physical benefits of playing pickleball on a regular basis, which is backed by research on the topic. As we become older, we become prone to health issues, especially if we maintain a sedentary lifestyle. Dementia, heart disease, osteoporosis, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, Alzheimers and a host of other issues become more and more common the older we get. However, as you’ll see below, researchers are finding in their studies that nearly all aspects of our physical and mental health can be improved with regular physical activity, and some studies have focused solely on pickleball players.
From losing weight to lowering blood pressure, improving flexibility to improving muscle strength, combating loneliness to fighting off bouts of depression, getting a better night’s rest to becoming a more well-rounded social being -- we cover all the benefits you can gain through playing pickleball regularly.
Risk factors for physical and mental health problems among older adults
Just because you’ve officially moved into your senior years doesn’t mean it’s time to become sedentary. Studies have shown that seniors who are physically active see a reduced risk of chronic illnesses. One of the biggest risk factors seniors face is being injured in a fall. Because bone density tends to decrease as we get older and muscle strength is lost, it becomes even more important to stay active so you can increase your strength and help prevent falls and/or injuries caused by falls.
The physical benefits of playing pickleball is well documented, however, there is also a positive correlation between pickleball and mental health, which is part of an increased focus among researchers.
Human beings are social animals. Part of being healthy includes having a social circle that fulfills our need to interact with others. When you open yourself up to an activity such as pickleball, you are introduced to like-minded individuals who might already be part of a well established group - a group that you will become part of.
While a pickleball player might talk a lot about their game, their gear and their desire to improve, they’ll also talk about the people they meet along the way, people who have become part of their inner circle.
The benefits of regularly playing the pickleball
Pickleball can help to improve all aspects of a senior's life, including cognitive functioning, physical strength and social interaction.
Physical health benefits
The pickleball community is an excellent example of how staying active can improve one’s physical health. From increasing strength to boosting the immune system to improving sleep -- playing pickleball on a regular basis packs in a lot of physical health benefits.
Mental and emotional health benefits
If you’ve ever felt a mood boost during or after a game of pickleball, it’s about more than just having fun. When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins, which are the feel good chemicals that elevate mood. Regular exercise has been known to ward off anxiety, fight depression and boost self esteem.
Humans are a social species. Even the most reclusive and solitary people need interaction with humans at some point or another. There is growing evidence that socializing lowers the risk of dementia. Pickleball, often played with four people on the court at the same time, is an excellent conduit for broadening your social web and increasing the amount of face-to-face interaction with your fellow humans.
How staying active with pickleball improves health in the elderly?
We all want our lives to be filled with quality years, and even if we know we don’t have decades upon decades ahead of us, we want the years we do have to be the best they can possibly be, and that’s what you can achieve by staying active.
The following are just some of the health benefits you can realize by regularly playing pickleball:
- Protects against heart disease and reduce your risk of a heart attack
- Stronger bones, muscles, joints and lower the risk of developing osteoporosis and fracturing bones
- Helps to control weight, improves metabolism and prevents obesity
- Lowers the risk of Type 2 diabetes and health problems associated with diabetes
- Helps lower blood pressure without medication
- Lowers low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, which is commonly referred to as bad cholesterol.
- Decrease risk of the different diseases
- Improves balance and control, reducing the risk of falling
- Helps improve mobility or agility issues
- Helps to improve reflexes, which can reduce the risk of falling
- Faster recovery from hospitalization or bed rest
- Protects against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
- Helps to prevent insomnia and other sleep issues
- Enhances brain function and helps prevent memory loss and cognitive decline
- Reduces anxiety and depression-related behaviors
- Fosters improvements in mood and feelings of well-being
- Is a conduit for engaging in social activity, which promotes higher self esteem and lower levels of loneliness
- Increasing overall life expectancy
Risk factors for physical & mental health problems and benefits of playing pickleball among older adults
Physical health benefits of regular pickleball activity
#1: Heart & cardiovascular health
- Helps prevent many of the unwanted heart health problems of older age.
- Reduce your risk of a heart attack
- Maintains and improves cardiovascular function
- Protects against heart disease, hypertension and stroke
#2: Muscles, bones & joints health
- Offers a good aerobic workout without too much stress and strain on joints and muscles
- Increases muscle mass and bone density
- Improves bone strength, reducing the risk of fractures
- Controls joint swelling and pain associated with arthritis
- Lower risk of developing osteoporosis
- Helps to maintain healthy bones, muscles and joints
#3: Weight management
- Helps for losing losing excess weight and maintaining a healthy weight and prevent obesity
- Improves metabolism
- Exercises all major muscles in the body
- Can be used for interval training
- Builds lean muscle, which is important for weight loss and an individual’s overall health
- Losing weight reduces blood pressure
#4: Diabetes prevention
- Lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes
- Reduces risk of health problems associated with diabetes
- Helps manage blood sugar because it helps in the production of insulin
- Helps to keep your heart healthy and pumping regularly, managing a whole host of potentially ill effects of diabetes, including heart disease and stroke
- Improves insulin sensitivity
- Can keep blood pressure normalized and prevent high blood pressure from occurring, lessening the severity of symptoms
#5: Blood pressure
- Stabilize high blood pressure
- Reduces the risk of developing high blood pressure
- Reduces blood pressure in people with hypertension
- Less risk of heart diseases, heart attack, congestive heart failure and stroke
#6: Cholesterol level
- Lowers low-density lipoprotein cholesterol
- The heart becomes stronger and an individual’s stress decreases significantly
- Help to keep low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels down permanently without taking medication.
#7: Illness & chronic disease risk
- Helps people with chronic and disabling conditions to improve their stamina and muscle strength
- decrease risks of disease such as stroke and certain cancers
- Protects the body against certain forms of cancer
#8: Balance and control
- Improves balance and control
- Lower your risk of falls
- Varied movement on the court promotes better balance
- Using your arms and legs together boost your coordination, which is another major factor in avoiding falls
- Protects against Parkinsonr’s disease
#9: Mobility and agility
- Improves mobility and agility for individuals who have some issues
- The body becomes stronger physically in terms of both strength and health
#10: Reaction time
- Improves reaction time
- Helps reduce or eliminate falling incidents
#11: Recovery periods
- Helps to recover from periods of hospitalization or bed rest
Mental health benefits of regular pickleball activity
#12: Alzheimer & Dementia
- Protects against dementia
- Protects against Alzheimer’s disease
- Playing pickleball results in a bigger and stronger hippocampus and prefrontal cortex
- Improves memory by building the hippocampus, which may help slow down the progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
- Preserve cognitive function
- Helps to lower dementia and Alzheimer’s patients' social isolation, as it allows them to feel a sense of community and belonging.
#13: Insomnia and sleep complaints
- Enhances sleep
- Regular activity can help you fall asleep more quickly and sleep more deeply
- Wake up feeling more energetic and refreshed
#14: Cognitive ability / brain functions
- Preserves cognitive function
- Improves brain function because pickleball requires strategy, reflexes and quick thinking, which will work the brain and muscles
- Help brain functions as diverse as multitasking and creativity
- Help prevent memory loss, cognitive decline and dementia
- Sharper memory and thinking
- Better concentrate and feeling mentally sharp
#15: Anxiety and depression
- Reduces symptoms of anxiety
- Alleviates symptoms of depression and depression-related behaviors
- Relieve tension, improve mood and provide a more positive outlook on life
- Fosters improvements in mood and feelings of well-being
- Improves the concept of personal control and self-efficacy
- Reduces stress. Endorphins produced can actually help reduce feelings of sadness, depression and anxiety
- Helps boosts mood and feel more self-confident
- Higher self esteem
Social wellness benefits of being active playing pickleball
#17: Social relationships
- Helps to make new friends or bond more closely with old ones
- More motivation to maintain good physical health as opposed to their less socially engaged peers
- Can motivate you to play when you’re feeling a little lazy
- Helps to discover senior living communities
- Regular face-to-face social interactions reduce the risk of depression
- Promotes spending time with people who exhibit healthy habits that may reinforce healthy behaviors, improve access to health-related information, better nutrition and more physical activity
#18: Level of loneliness or social isolation
- Engaging in regular social activities offers higher self-perception and lower levels of loneliness
#19: Life expectancy
- Increases overall life expectancy. This can be linked to the increased physical and mental stimulation that seniors with more active social lives enjoy
#20: Sense of belonging
- Staying socially active can give seniors a sense of belonging and make them feel more connected to the world
- Participating in group activities and conversations allows seniors to create a support system as they age
Research supporting the benefits of physical activity on cognitive health in older adults
The number of studies are mounting up, and they’re focusing on the positive aspects of pickleball on a person’s health. As the fastest growing sport in the U.S., and as it is very popular with older adults, scientists are looking closer at this aging group and how their sport of choice, pickleball, impacts their wellness.
For example, an article in The Journal of Positive Psychology, titled “Importance of playing pickleball for older adults’ subjective well-being: A serious leisure perspective,” found that ”playing pickleball as a form of serious leisure may add significant value to older adults’ daily lives and contribute to successful aging.”
The importance of physical activity exercise among older people
In this 2018 study, “The Importance of Physical Activity Exercise among Older People,” researchers recognize that regular exercise in older people is related to such health benefits as decreased cardiovascular mortality. When a person takes on a regular exercise routine, they’re essentially training their hearts to work more efficiently, which means their resting heart rate decreases and blood pressure goes down.
Furthermore, the study finds that through regular physical activity, which can be attained through playing pickleball, improvements can be made in emotional, social well-being, mental health and cognitive function. However, it’s recommended that to gain these advantages, older adults should maintain a physical activity regimine of at least 150 minutes per week.
Physical activity, common brain pathologies, and cognition in community-dwelling older adults
This early 2019 study, titled “Physical activity, common brain pathologies, and cognition in community-dwelling older adults,” several researchers take an incredibly close look at the actual brain, 454 of them to be exact, to study the relationship between physical activity, Alzheimer’s disease and other brain pathologies in older adults.
The results show that people who have higher levels of daily physical activity have an enhanced ability to maintain cognitive function. Also, higher levels of daily activity led to better motor abilities and better cognition.
Physical activity, injurious falls, and physical function in aging
It’s well known today that physical activity is the first line of defense in preventing chronic illnesses in older people.
This 2019 study titled “Physical Activity, Injurious Falls, and Physical Function in Aging: An Umbrella Review,” finds that major disabilities can also be prevented or delayed through regular physical activity. But does being more active put you at risk for sustaining injury due to fall?
Researchers found “strong and consistent evidence” that multicomponent physical activity, such as anything involving combinations of aerobic and strengthening activities, “significantly reduced” the risk of sustaining injuries related to falls.
This study also finds that it is recommended that older people (65 and older) maintain a 150 minutes per week minimum of exercise. However, it’s estimated that only 27 percent of older adults are meeting that recommendation.
Understanding pickleball benefits among older adults through studies
Don’t just take our word for it: look at all the research that has been done on the health benefits of pickleball. Looking at large groups of players in many different age brackets, the results are positive - pickleball is a rejuvenating activity that has numerous healthful benefits.
From studies that look into why people choose pickleball and how social interaction is improved, to studies about pickleball players present with fewer cases of depression, to studies about how blood pressure is lowered after regularly playing the game, the proof is there - pickleball is part of a happy and healthy person’s life.
Serious leisure and depression in older adults: a study of pickleball players
A 2018 study by researchers from three universities in the U.S. and one in South Korea focused on 153 older adults who competed in pickleball tournaments.
The study states that depression in older adults has been increasing, but that people who engage in “serious leisure” are less prone to depression.
With the 153 adults participating in the study, researchers got assistance collecting data from the Minto US Open Pickleball Championships and found that “serious leisure and depression were inversely related,” meaning the activity, given its social nature and health benefits, seems to stave off depression.
Understanding pickleball as a new leisure pursuit among older adults
While pickleball was first played in the 1960s, it has really picked up speed in the last several years and has become a wildly popular activity, but it’s still considered a new leisure pursuit, especially for people around retirement age.
In the same study mentioned above, researchers focused on older adults ranging in three different groups: 50-59, 60-69, and 70 and over. For those who were retired, the findings suggest that playing pickleball had eased them into a life change that made the transition less jarring.
The acute and chronic physiological responses to pickleball in middle-aged and older adults
Three researchers from Western Colorado University wanted to quantify the acute cardiovascular and metabolic responses to pickleball and figure out how impactful six weeks of play would be on a sample group of 15 men and women.
They collected the cardiovascular and metabolic data after doubles matches that lasted one hour and were played three times a week.
They found that after six weeks of play, there were “significant improvements” in high and low density lipoprotein cholesterol, maximum oxygen uptake and systolic and diastolic blood pressure. They concluded that pickleball is a “feasible alternative to traditional exercise modalities for middle-aged and older adults.”
Psychological connection to pickleball: assessing motives and participation in older adults
The idea behind this study, which was published in 2018, was to look at how playing pickleball affected a player’s (age 55 and older) psychological connection to the sport in relation to their motivation for or behavioral involvement in playing.
Researchers collected data via online surveys from players located in North Carolina, specifically looking at the players’ awareness, attraction, attachment and allegiance levels of connection.
They established that reasons for participating in the sport include competition, diversion, fitness, skill mastery and socialization. Fitness and socialization turned out to be the most common connection between all players, but for the people who have played for a year or longer and are on the court 10 times or more a month find that they have a strong connection to competition and skill mastery.
A comparison of pickleball and walking
A 2016 pilot study titled “A Comparison of Pickleball and Walking” looked at the differences in health-related improvements in those who played pickleball vs. those who got their exercise while walking.
Researchers recognized that pickleball is a “rising trend” in recreation sports, but at that time, only one study had looked at the cardiorespiratory demands of the sport on cardiac patients.
Researchers followed 12 novice to intermediate plays, four male and eight female and looked at their average heart rate, peak heart rate, total steps and calories expended in each 30-minute session or playing.
The results, as one would expect, is that pickleball players experienced a much higher heart rate while playing compared to walkers and players burned more calories. However, the study also revealed that pickleball players experienced a higher level of enjoyment while exercising than walkers.
Seniors need to stay active to be healthy. How does Pickleball can help you?
Doctors are always telling us to be more active, regardless of our age. However, seniors face a particularly unique scenario as more and more physical and mental health issues become problematic at an advanced age.
Seniors don’t have to accept that living with chronic health issues is the new norm for them. For example, seniors are at risk for heart disease, bone and joint health, weight problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, mobility issues and other chronic diseases, not to mention mental health issues.
Did you know that one in three seniors says they’re lonely? Simply picking up a recreational sport is not going to lead to the fountain of youth and eternal happiness, but it is proven to improve the quality of life you can live. Check out the benefits of playing pickleball:
How the pickleball helps to reduce your risk of a heart attack and stroke?
Stronger hearts are less likely to fall victim to heart attack, and the best way to improve your heart health is to stay active, which is what pickleball will certainly do for you. Improving your cardiovascular health will not only reduce the risk for heart attack, it will also reduce the risk of stroke.
What impact does the pickleball have on muscles, bones and joints health?
While pickleball isn’t as physically taxing as tennis, it sure offers a good workout, which is exactly what your muscles, bones and joints need to stay healthy and strong. Bones are living tissue, and activity causes new tissue to grow, making the bones stronger. The same can be said of muscles.
Joint health is also improved due to better muscle strength around joints and improved flexibility. For those experiencing joint pain, exercise can be a great way to manage it.
How your regular activity of pickleball affects your weight and metabolism?
Remember when you were younger and your metabolism had you burning calories like a furnace? As we age, our metabolism slows down, but we can give it a little nudge in the right direction by exercising. Not only will you be burning calories and losing weight while you play, a higher metabolism will help you burn more while you’re at rest.
How to prevent and manage diabetes playing pickleball?
To control the symptoms associated with diabetes, controlling glucose levels ranks high on the list of priorities. Exercise reduces glucose in the blood, which is what most diabetics have a difficult time getting rid of. For people who are insulin resistant, exercise actually makes the insulin more effective.
Can pickleball help lower blood pressure?
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, can lead to many health problems, including cardiovascular disease and stroke. You can lower your blood pressure by eating the right foods and exercising regularly by playing pickleball. When you exercise, you improve the strength of your heart, which means it will pump more blood with less effort.
How pickleball help to lower your cholesterol without medication?
Cholesterol is tied to many things in our lives, including our weight, the food we eat and how much exercise we get. Pickleball can help you with your cholesterol problem because it is a physical activity that can improve your good cholesterol levels, and if you’re overweight, pickleball can help you burn calories that leads to weight loss, which can also improve your cholesterol count.
How can the pickleball reduce the impact of illness and chronic disease?
Anyone with an illness or chronic disease needs to get clearance from their doctor before playing pickleball. However, those who have been checked out an play pickleball regularly can attest to the benefits of playing regularly. Everything from improving back pain, reducing the symptoms of diabetes to improving heart health have been reported.
How does pickleball help to enhance your mobility, flexibility, and balance?
Pickleball can be a fast game, requiring players to cover the court in a short amount of time, which means a lot of pivots, stops and starts. These are excellent exercise motions for improving mobility, flexibility and balance. Repeating these actions time and again will only make you a stronger more agile player.
Seniors need to feel mentally sharp to be healthy. How does Pickleball can help you?
How pickleball benefits Alzheimer’s disease and dementia?
There is growing evidence to suggest that regular exercise, such as biking, swimming, walking and jogging can prevent or retard the progression of brain disorders, including Alzheimer's disease and dementia.
Pickleball is a sport that requires movements that get the heart pumping and metabolism going, and as more oxygen flows to the brain, doctors believe this can have a positive impact in the fight against dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Does pickleball help enhance your sleep in the elderly?
Moderate aerobic exercise, which is what you get when you play pickleball, is thought to increase the amount of flow wave sleep in humans. Slow wave sleep is that ever-important deep sleep where the brain can rest and rejuvenate.
When you exercise, your body temperature increases, and as the body temperature regulates following exercise, scientists think this could be what triggers sleepy feelings.
How pickleball helps to prevent the aging of the brain and to keep mild cognitive impairment?
Exercise has the power to change the brain. When you play pickleball, you’re getting the type of physical exercise that can influence brain “plasticity,” which can improve your cognitive abilities and promote wellness.
Plasticity refers to the brain’s ability to change at any age - for the better. As we age, we have come to expect a certain degree of cognitive decline, but people who get regular exercise shouldn’t necessarily expect that decline. In fact, for those who have already fallen into some sort of impairment, it’s possible to retrain the brain to healthier function.
How does pickleball activity can help to reduce anxiety and depression?
Stress and anxiety are so common that they’ve been deemed “normal” parts of life, but if your stress and anxiety are leading you down the dark road of depression, there’s something that can help.
Being a physical activity that leads to improved cardiovascular health, pickleball can also help you fight stress, because as you exercise, endorphins are released into your brain, which leads to feelings of well being. Endorphins can even take away feelings of pain. You also have to take into account that pickleball is a social activity, and being social comes with anxiety- and depression-fighting benefits.
How can older adults reduce the stress of playing pickleball?
While the benefits of playing pickleball for older adults are far reaching, there is also risk involved. You can avoid injury by making sure you play against individuals who are at the same level as your playing ability, which means you won’t feel the need to overextend yourself and risk injury.
Warm up your muscles and joints before you matches and take breaks as needed. Don’t ignore the signals your body is giving you - if you feel strained in a part of your body, have it looked at.
Seniors need to stay socially active to be healthy. How does Pickleball can help you?
Part of living a healthy life involves more than just eating right and avoiding bad habits that lead to health issues. A healthy life is also one where you have a network of friends - people you can count on to keep you socially viable and connected.
Often played in doubles, pickleball has proven to be a great way to meet new people and form a special bond that enriches a person beyond their physical exercise wants/needs. Furthermore, establishing a wider network of friends can be the perfect antidote for laziness: if you’re having a day where you feel like you’d rather kick back and watch television, your pickleball friends can motivate you to get out onto the court and have a blast.
How to create social relationships playing pickleball?
There is an estimated 3.13 million people playing pickleball in the U.S. That’s a lot of people you have something in common with right now, and there are probably some in your community. In fact, one of the first things people notice when they begin playing pickleball, aside from how much fun it is, involves the social connections they quickly make that they otherwise probably wouldn’t.
Pickleball players are an inclusive bunch, so find a group with similar skills as you and start scheduling days when you can all get together for matches. You’ll find that the more you play, the more fellow enthusiasts you’ll meet. Pretty soon, your game schedule is going to be full.
How pickleball help to avoid loneliness and social isolation for seniors?
It’s estimated that around 20 percent of people age 50 and beyond are affected by loneliness. These are people can fall into depression and be at risk of suicide. Several reasons lead to this feeling of loneliness, and it can range from financial problems to cognitive challenges to a lack of social support. Fortunately, pickleball is a highly social activity that can lead to pulling a lonely person out of their funk and find renewed hope.
Pickleball has a low cost of entry and might even be free in communities where donated pickleball gear is readily available, and it’s easy to learn. If you’re lonely or if you know someone who is, entice them out for a game of pickleball and see their life turn around.
Play pickleball to stay active physically and mentally
Obviously, there is plenty of evidence to prove that for adults who are physically able to play pickleball, there are many, many benefits, and it’s not just about getting more physically fit. Not only are you improving your stamina and becoming a more energetic person by regularly playing pickleball, you’re also helping to stave off chronic health issues as well as improve your mental health wellness through getting involved in a highly social activity. If you’re considering this sport as a pastime, talk to your doctor about it and make sure you’re physically fit enough to break a sweat.
When you get the all clear, remember that we’re here as your reference for gear, information on the sport and to help you find places to play.