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Golfing regularly reduces risk of death in older adults

Stephen Padilla
10 Mar 2020

Playing golf for at least once a month can lower the risk of death among elderly persons, according to a study presented at the American Stroke Association’s (ASA) International Stroke Conference (ISC) 2020 in Los Angeles, US.

However, the protective effect of golfing does not extend to a reduction in cardiovascular events.

“Our study is perhaps the first of its kind to evaluate the long-term health benefits of golf, particularly one of the most popular sports among older people in many countries,” said Adnan Qureshi, MD, lead author and executive director of the Zeenat Qureshi Stroke Institutes and professor of neurology at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri, in a press statement released by ASA.

Qureshi and colleagues analysed data from the Cardiovascular Health Study, a prospective observational cohort study of risk factors for cardiovascular disease in adults aged 65 years. Participants underwent annual extensive clinical examinations and six monthly clinic visits from 1989 through 1999. Once clinic visits ended, they were contacted by phone to determine the occurrence of any cardiovascular event.

The researchers inquired about the participants’ golf status at baseline and conducted longitudinal follow-up for a mean of 13 years. Regular golf players referred to those who played golf for at least once per month. Cox proportional hazards analysis was performed to ascertain the effect of playing golf on incident myocardial infarction, stroke and death during follow-up after adjusting for confounders.

A total of 5,888 participants (mean age, 72.8 years; 41.9 percent men) were identified, of which 384 individuals played golf regularly. Thirty-one (8.1 percent) regular golfers had stroke and 38 (9.9 percent) had myocardial infarction during follow-up.

Overall mortality rate stood at 1,115 death per 100,000 population. The rate of death was significantly lower among individuals who played golf regularly than those who did not (15.1 percent vs 24.6 percent, respectively). No difference was noted in the rates of myocardial infarction or stroke among those who played golf regularly. [ISC 2020, abstract TP172]

After adjusting for age, race, gender, hypertension and diabetes mellitus, multivariable analysis revealed that individuals who played golf regularly had a lower risk of death (hazard ratio [HR], 0.6, 95 percent confidence interval [CI], 0.4–0.7; p<0.0001) compared with those who did not.

On the other hand, the risk of MI (HR, 1.0, 95 percent CI, 0.7–1.3) or stroke (HR, 1.0, 95 percent CI, 0.7–1.5) was not lower among regular golf players.

“While walking and low-intensity jogging may be comparable exercise, they lack the competitive excitement of golf,” Qureshi said in a statement. “Regular exercise, exposure to a less polluted environment and social interactions provided by golf are all positive for health.”

In addition, adults can continue playing golf until old age unlike other more strenuous sports such as football, basketball and tennis, among others. Stress relief and relaxation are other benefits of golfing that other sports do not offer.

In the US, golf is played by about 25 million people. Playing golf has been associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease by providing regular exercise and stress relief, according to the researchers.

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