A recent study by North Carolina State University highlighted the health benefits of pickleball, especially for older adults. Led by Jonathan Casper, an associate professor, the research focused on adults over 65 years old, demonstrating that playing pickleball aids in achieving the recommended amount of moderate to vigorous physical activity each week. This pilot study aimed to understand whether pickleball can provide sufficient activity for cardiovascular health.
The research, published in the Recreational Sports Journal, involved 33 seniors who played pickleball at least twice a week. Using Fitbits, the team measured steps and activity intensity over two weeks. Findings showed that on pickleball days, participants took an average of 3,477 extra steps and spent more time in higher activity levels. Each session averaged over 68 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity, with significant time spent in elevated heart rate zones.
Casper emphasized the importance of physical, social, and psychological health for successful aging. Physical health includes activities that increase heart rate, while social and psychological aspects involve maintaining social connections and overall well-being.
The CDC and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services suggest that older adults engage in 150-300 minutes of moderate or 75-150 minutes of vigorous activity weekly. In this study, pickleball was a key factor in meeting these guidelines. Future research plans include comparing pickleball with other sports to assess physical activity levels, social-psychological benefits, and injury risks.
Pickleball Heart Rates
It’s important to understand why elevated heart rates are beneficial for this age group (or any age group):
Elevated heart rates, achieved through moderate to vigorous physical activity, are crucial for maintaining and improving cardiovascular health in older adults. When the heart rate increases during exercise, it strengthens the heart muscle, enhancing its efficiency in pumping blood throughout the body. This improved circulation leads to better oxygen and nutrient delivery to various tissues and organs.
Regular physical activity that raises the heart rate also helps in regulating blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, and hypertension. Additionally, it aids in maintaining a healthy weight, which is vital for preventing obesity-related conditions like diabetes.
Exercise with elevated heart rates has benefits beyond physical health. It can improve mental health by reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety. Physical activity also stimulates the release of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers and mood elevators.
And there’s more:
Regular exercise that includes heart rate elevation can improve cognitive function, which is particularly important as cognitive decline is a common concern in aging. Activities like pickleball, which require coordination, strategy, and social interaction, can also contribute to enhanced cognitive and social engagement.
This study, titled “Physical Activity Associated with Older Adult Pickleball,” was co-authored by Jason N. Bocarro and Nicholas R. Drake, with funding from NC State University’s Non-laboratory Scholarship/Research Program.