May 31, 2008
Playing Golf Extends Life 5 Years?

At least in Sweden golfers live longer.

Golf can be a good investment for the health, according to a new study from the Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet. The death rate for golfers is 40 per cent lower than for other people of the same sex, age and socioeconomic status, which correspond to a 5 year increase in life expectancy. Golfers with a low handicap are the safest.

The lower death rate by lower handicap suggests that part of the effect might flow from fitness of one's nervous system. Maybe more coordinated people live longer. Maybe the handicap gets worse faster for those whose nervous systems and muscles are aging more rapidly.

It is a well-known fact that exercise is good for the health, but the expected health gains of particular activities are still largely unknown. A team of researchers from Karolinska Institutet has now presented a study of the health effects of golf a low-intensity form of exercise in which over 600,000 Swedes engage.

The study, which is published in Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, is based on data from 300,000 Swedish golfers and shows that golf has beneficial health effects. The death rate amongst golfers is 40 per cent lower than the rest of the population, which equates to an increased life expectancy of five years.

Golfing involves walking some miles. Plus, it is a social game with groups of people discussing things as they walk around the course. A cause and effect relationship seems highly plausible.

Professor Anders Ahlbom, who has led the study with Bahman Farahmand is not surprised at the result, as he believes that there are several aspects of the game that are proved to be good for the health.

"A round of golf means being outside for four or five hours, walking at a fast pace for six to seven kilometres, something which is known to be good for the health," he says. "People play golf into old age, and there are also positive social and psychological aspects to the game that can be of help."

Getting more exercise is a good idea. Engaging in stress-lowering activities is similarly a good idea. Whether you want to play golf or not getting involved in regular stress-lowering exercise will provide real benefits.

The bigger benefit for blue collar workers is interesting. I would expect blue collar workers to get more exercise in their jobs. But they also have lower status and therefore more stress. Maybe golf relieves more stress for blue collar workers?

Golf players have a lower death rate regardless of sex, age and social group. The effect is greater for golfers from blue-collar professions than for those from white-collar professions. The lowest rates are found in the group of players with the lowest handicap (i.e. the best golfers).

Does SES control for IQ differences? Smarter people live longer. Are golfers smarter than non-golfers at the same levels of SES?

Update: In the comments "Fat Man" makes a very good point: Lots of golf courses require that you use a golf cart. So you do not get the exercise. I wonder if this is more an American phenomenon. Do Swedish golfers mostly walk their courses?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 May 31 12:30 PM  Aging Studies

HellKaiserRyo said at May 31, 2008 1:41 PM:

Don't forget Sweden is a highly egalitarian country.

But I think people will become stressed out if they have to use the public golf course instead of the ones from a rich country club.

Randall Parker said at May 31, 2008 2:11 PM:


I would expect blue collar workers to be more likely to use the public course. Yet they derived greater benefit from golfing.

HellKaiserRyo said at May 31, 2008 3:49 PM:

My remark about country clubs was a somewhat sarcastic. I should have clarified that.

But nice article... thanks. It is why I actually read this blog.

Fat Man said at May 31, 2008 3:52 PM:

"Golfing involves walking some miles."

Not if the course requires you use a cart, as most of them do.

mike anderson said at May 31, 2008 4:04 PM:

Nah, it just seems like 5 years longer, hearing them talk about the latest company golf tournament for a a week before AND a week after the game. They're boring the rest of us to death.

Wolf-Dog said at May 31, 2008 9:33 PM:

Perhaps the kind of people who play golf among both upper class and middle class people, is precisely the ones who come from a calm and relaxed background, in the sense that these people might be of average income, but they have an already secure situation. The golf players almost certainly do not include the lower income groups trapped in ghettos.

Rob said at June 1, 2008 10:05 AM:

Golfers probably get more sun than nongolfers. This could be a vitamin D link.

I'm also reminded of Sailer's point that golf courses are an idealization of the African Savannah. Perhaps there is something deeply comforting being in an idealized EEA.

I also think it is very possible that healthier people are more likely to play. This conclusion is especially consistent with a lower handicap increasing lifespan more. I would bet (though I don't know) that older people who run are healthier (On average) than those who don't.

Since golf requires some coordination, it is possible that a lower handicap correlates with better neurological health.

But this is fascinating Randall, I'll read the article, but probably won't take up golf.

Mark Plus said at June 1, 2008 7:37 PM:

I never understood why, golf, a parochial Scottish sport requiring little physical strength, has spread around the world the way it has. You'd think that men who really want to broadcast their fitness to potential mates would have taken up the caber toss instead.

David Nishimura said at June 4, 2008 7:18 AM:

The abstract mentions that the study controlled for a number of factors, but does not mention anything about other forms of exercise. If this was not controlled for, it pretty much invalidates the study as demonstrating any health benefit to golf (though I'm sure that there is such a benefit, albeit probably not nearly as pronounced as the study suggests). Those who play golf are surely more likely to partake of other forms of exercise; those who play golf well are especially likely to do so -- and are likely to have a longer history of both golfing and other sporting activity. The better health of golfers vs nongolfers among blue-collar workers could easily be the result of both golf and associated healthy habits being more exceptional there than among white-collar types.

Brian Wang said at June 4, 2008 9:47 AM:

Does the study correct for differences in wealth ? Golfers tend to have more money.

Which relates to the why golf and not the caber toss.

Golfing can be used to show financial success.

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