° Сyou probably already know someone who is an avid pickleball player. of America the fastest growing sport— a cross between tennis, badminton and ping-pong — can to play as a singles or doubles game, although doubles tend to be more popular. Points can only be scored by the serving side, and the winner is the side that first reaches 11 points and leads by at least two.
Invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington, the pickle gained popularity during the pandemic, growth of 14.8% between 2020 and 2021. According to Sports and Fitness Industry Report 2022more than half (52%) of core players – those who play eight or more times a year – are 55 or older, and almost a third (32.7%) are over 65.
Jonathan Casper, an associate professor at North Carolina State University who has studied the benefits of pickles for older adults, sees it as “a public health tool in many ways, both to achieve physical activity and to obtain the psychological and social benefits that are so important as we age.” That’s why.
It’s a low-impact way to get around
Part of pickleball’s appeal is that “even though it requires coordination and you have to be physically fit to play,” it’s not that hard to learn, Kasper says. And because the court is smaller than a tennis court, the net is lower and you’re playing with a plastic ball, “it doesn’t take too much of your body,” says Arthur Kreiswirth, 80, a retired dentist in New Rochelle, N.Y., who started to play five years ago. “Running is in short sprints and the impact of hitting the ball is minimal, so it’s easier on the joints.”
But the pickle is still a great workout. IN 2016 study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 12 middle-aged players burned 40% more calories during a 30-minute game of pickleball than during 30 minutes of walking, raising their heart rates within the moderate-intensity exercise zone. Little six week old study of 15 people aged 40 to 85 who played an hour of pickleball three days a week showed improvements in cholesterol, blood pressure and cardiorespiratory fitness.
In addition, regular practice can help improve balance, which is important for preventing falls as we age. Because pickleball requires both hand-eye and foot coordination, Casper says, “your balance, movement, and coordination improve as you play more.”
It is a path to socialization
Research has shown that social isolation is associated with an increased risk of dementia, depression and premature death. Still, without a job or school-age children, it can be difficult to make friends as adults.
Enter pickleball, which Janet Niehaus, 68, a retired teacher in Easley, SC, describes as “my socialization.” In the rotating group of 18 with whom she plays twice a week, “we stand around and talk as much as we play.” in recent study of 36 pickleball players over the age of 65 published in World Leisure Journalthose who maintained the social connections they made through sports by continuing to play during the pandemic months of 2020 reported improved life satisfaction.
Pickleball’s expanding appeal—the average age of the player is 38—a nearly three-year drop from 2020—meaning you’re meeting people you wouldn’t otherwise date, says Erin McHugh, 70, author of Pickleball Is Life: The Complete Guide to Fueling Your Obsession.
“Growing up, I’m a big believer in having friends of all ages and walks of life,” says McHugh, who plays daily with fellow pilgrims ranging in age from 15 to 92. “It keeps you aware of what’s going on out there.”
It gives you something to get better at
In his research in the psychological connection between pickleball and older people, Kasper found that the competition inherent in pickleball—rare in other “friendly” activities like walking or Zumba—was a big draw. When Kreiswirth started playing at 75, “I was paired with a 92-year-old, and he could hit as well as anybody,” he says. “I thought, ‘Well, if he can do it, so can I.’ That pumped me up to keep playing.”
A 2018 survey of 153 people competing in pickleball tournaments found that playing pickleball was significantly associated with lower levels of depression in older adults. For retirees, pickles can help restore a sense of purpose after leaving the working world, Casper says. “People start forming an identity as they play more and more,” he explains. “The fact that they can continue to improve, that they are able to compete and have that satisfaction of winning adds to their quality of life in so many ways.”
And when it comes to mastering skills, says McHugh, the sky’s the limit. “You can always improve in a pickle,” she says. “This is so satisfying! How many things will be like that when you’re 70?”
It keeps your brain sharp
Kathy Jaray, 70, who plays six times a week in Encinitas, Calif., says it’s not just exercise that has gotten her “addicted,” but mental training. “Some people could care less about the strategy and just want to hit the ball, but to me it makes the game more interesting,” she says.
Although power and strength are useful, “if you know the right placement, if you know where your opponents are positioned, if you have the right strategy, you can be just as good as—if not better—than those who are physically stronger.” -good and athletic than you,” Casper says.
The confidence boost Kreiswirth gets from playing pickleball is huge.
“It helped me so much with my self-image,” he says. “Yes, I’m in good shape for an 80-year-old, but the end is in sight and I don’t want to crawl to it. Pickleball gave me a way to be active for a few hours, work up a sweat, and feel really good about myself.”
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