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7 Health Benefits You Can Gain When You Start to Play Pickleball

If you’re an older adult, it can seem like you’re spotting pickleball everywhere you turn. There are courts around the corner, your friends are joining leagues and your neighbors have invited you and your partner to play doubles with them. Are you ready to take a swing at this trend yourself?

Pickleball is a paddle sport that’s a little like tennis on a smaller court with a lower net, with a little bit of badminton and ping pong mixed in. Aside from being great exercise, there are many reasons why pickleball is attractive to older adults.

Since you don’t have to cover as much distance as you would on the tennis court, especially if you play doubles, pickleball is physically accessible. There’s some learning involved, but it’s not too complex. It gives you something to get better at. Plus, it’s just plain fun. 

“Pickleball can be a sport of a lifetime, meaning it can create enjoyment and physical benefit over long periods of time if you use proper technique and play in moderation,” said Todd Ellenbecker, a physical therapist with Banner Health. “It is enjoying massive popularity at the moment, and access to courts and instruction is at an all-time high.” Here’s why you might want to get out on the court.

1. It’s a low-impact type of exercise

Pickleball is gentle on your joints. Compared to high-impact activities, you don’t have to run or jump much. Therefore, it’s a good option for seniors since there’s a lower risk of joint stress and injury.

2. It gets your heart beating faster

The continuous play, quick movements and fast rallies that are part of a pickleball game get your heart pumping and give you a great cardio workout. Pickleball can improve your cardiovascular endurance, enhance your circulation and support your heart health.

3. It builds strength

Playing pickleball can strengthen your muscles and improve your endurance, especially in the lower body, core and upper body. When you’re swinging the paddle and moving quickly on the court, you engage a lot of muscle groups and hone your reflexes.

4. It improves balance and coordination

Regularly playing pickleball can improve your balance, agility and hand-eye coordination. Those improvements can enhance your mobility and stability and help reduce your risk of falls. 

5. It can help you make friends

Getting out on the court allows you to interact with other players, make new friends, build camaraderie and foster a sense of community. This social engagement can improve your overall quality of life. “Staying active and connected to others is an important part of optimal mental health,” Ellenbecker said. “The teamwork and engagement that occurs during pickleball fosters these benefits.”

6. It’s adaptable and inclusive

Pickleball is a sport that you can modify for people of different fitness levels and abilities, so it’s accessible for lots of people. You can play on a smaller court or at a slower pace or play doubles to make the game more relaxed. 

7. It’s flexible and convenient

You can play indoors or outdoors, so you can keep the games going all year, regardless of the weather or temperature.

How to stay safe

Pickleball is an accessible sport, but there’s always a risk of injury or overexertion. Some pickleball players injure their lower legs due to the way they move or get repetitive stress injuries in their shoulder, elbow or wrist from swinging the paddle.

“Like other sports with reaction-based movements, you should be sure that you are healthy enough to engage in physical exercise before setting out to play pickleball,” Ellenbecker said. Here are a few steps you can take to avoid any health issues.

  • Check with your health care provider to make sure pickleball is suitable for you.
  • Learn how to play the right way when you’re starting out. Using good equipment and performing the strokes and movements properly can help reduce the risk of injury. 
  • Wear proper footwear so your feet and ankles have the support they need.
  • Warm up properly and cool down after playing. “That allows your body to adapt to the increased workloads of this physical activity,” Ellenbecker said. A dynamic warm-up like riding a stationary bike or slowly jogging in place to elevate the heart rate is a great way to start. It’s also a good idea to do some side steps, lunges and other movements you’ll encounter during pickleball to help prepare yourself for actual pickleball play.  
  • If you haven’t been physically active, consider combining pickleball with walking, cycling or other exercises. “People with enhanced levels of fitness can adapt better than players who join the sport with very low fitness levels,” Ellenbecker said.
  • Start gradually if you are not participating in other fitness activities or you are starting after a period of time with no exercise.
  • Stay hydrated and listen to your body. If you feel like you’re overdoing it, take a break.

The bottom line

Pickleball can benefit your cardiovascular system, build your strength and flexibility and challenge your balance and reaction times. “Pickleball’s movements and elevated heart rates help improve these important areas for seniors,” Ellenbecker said.

Pickleball is a healthy and enjoyable option that active seniors can try at their own pace while reaping its physical, social and mental health benefits. If you would like to start playing pickleball but you’re not sure if it’s right for you, get advice from a Banner health care provider

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