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Seniors and Life Sports: 6 Benefits of Pickleball


My rehab from ankle/foot surgery has gone, I think, quite well. However, as I continue to improve, gaining more strength and mobility, I can’t help but think, “how badly do I really want to play competitive tennis once I’m completely healed?” Going through another surgery and rehab is not a pleasant thought. I still want to compete, but I want to minimize my risk of injury. Not sure I want to only play chess; I do want to work up a good sweat but be smart about my participation.


Last year I wrote an article on lifetime sports for seniors, listing several sports most any senior can participate in. Over the next several weeks I will be looking at a few team sports and then an equal number of individual sports, listing benefits each provides. I will be kicking off the series with a look at pickleball.


The first time I ever saw anyone playing pickleball was about three years ago at the YMCA. At the time, I thought it was something brand new, a passing fad that would have the life span of a fruit fly. I could not have been more wrong. Combining tennis, badminton and ping pong into a single competition, pickleball’s origins can be traced back to 1965. Today, the sport has an international governing body with sixteen member countries. Here in the US, league and tournament play is governed by the USA Pickleball Association. Every major city has places to play. There’s even a Pickleball Hall of Fame. By now you can see that pickleball is anything but a passing fancy. It’s a serious sport, with serious benefits. Here are a few:


  • Strengthens muscles – As reported by Mueller Sports Med, because you are moving around and carrying your weight, it is considered a “weight bearing exercise” and, therefore, can strengthen muscles.


  • Helps Maintain weight – Like any exercise regimen you can, coupled with a healthy diet, shed unwanted pounds and maintain a healthy weight. One woman, Julie Nidiffer, credits pickleball with helping her lose over 90 pounds.


  • Increases brain function – Reporting in Silver Sneakers, Lisa Fields cites findings that playing pickleball can, over time, elevate one’s mood, fighting depression. Also, strategizing over court positioning and shot placement can aid in brain function and fighting dementia.


  • Increases cardiovascular healthChristina Ianzito, a senior editor for AARP, reported findings from the International Journal of Research in Exercise Physiology which showed that “regular pickleball playing — in this case, three times a week for one hour for six weeks — resulted in improved blood pressure and cardiorespiratory fitness.”


  • Improves Hand-eye coordination Tom Beck, writing for MUSC Health (Medical University of South Carolina), reports that focusing on hitting a ball with a paddle can improve hand-eye coordination, which is especially important for seniors.


  • Builds community Bob Nibarger, a board member at large of the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) and tournament director for Carolina Courts and the Concord Tournament Series, cites several examples where social activity is enhanced not only through friendly competition but the interactivity of the game itself.


Brevity is a double-edged sword and limits me to share only a few benefits. Others include stress reduction, better sleep and less wear and tear on knee, hip and ankle joints.  One reason so many people enjoy the sport is the court size. It is much smaller than a tennis court, only 44 feet x 20 feet, and easier to cover. Pickleball’s most ardent participants are not just older adults. Quite the contrary. Players range in age from 6 to over 90. There’s even pickleball for people in wheelchairs.


Don’t be deceived, pickleball can be both addictive and highly competitive. Or not. You get to choose the level. It can be great fun with physical, social and mental health benefits. Like any health regimen, especially for seniors who have enjoyed a sedentary lifestyle, it may be best to first consult your physician.