By Keely Levins
Here at Golf Digest, we’re big believers that golf makes people’s lives better. It happens in the simplest ways, like the joy that comes from a good shot. And it happens in ways much more complex. Any story from our series Golf Saved My Life demonstrate golf’s capacity to improve seemingly impossible situations.
In light of Thursday’s celebration of World Mental Health Day—and October being World Mental Health Month—we looked into some of the science that supports what we golfers can already feel: Golf is good for your mental health.
1. Reduces anxiety
In 2018, we wrote about a European study that cited golf as a means to better overall health—mental health included.
“Social interaction is the risk factor which has been undervalued,” Roger Hawkes, the former chief medical officer of the European Tour and one of the authors of the study, told CNN. “Mental health is a big thing in this day and age, and moderate physical activity is associated with a reduction in anxiety and a reduction in depression.”
That report echoed some of the findings from a 2009 Swedish study that found golfers have an “increase in life expectancy of about five years.”
2. Offers beneficial social interaction
In a Medical News today article, psychologist Susan Pinker talks about the positive effects of social interaction. Even small versions of social interaction, like “shaking hands, giving somebody a high-five is enough to release oxytocin, which increases your level of trust, and it lowers your cortisol levels, so it lowers your stress,” says Dr. Pinker.
It’s pretty cool to think that each fist-pound you give on the golf course helps your mental health, as does that post-round handshake on the 18th green.
3. Reduces the effects of depression
You’ve probably read studies about exercise producing endorphins and making people happier—runner’s high, anyone? But there are studies that show even non-rigorous exercise, like golf, can help your mental state.
An Australian study by Kristiann Heesch, which was covered by Scientific American, found that women battling depression who averaged two and a half hours of ‘moderate exercise’ (including golf) were less affected by their depression than they were when the study began three years prior.
4. Lowers stress
Getting exercise is great, but getting exercise outdoors, also known as “green exercise,” is better, according to this 2015 study. “Experiences in contact with nature have been shown to provide stress-reduction and restoration from mental fatigue,” the study said.
Researchers focused on relieving stress at the workplace and concluded that, “Green-exercise at the workplace could be a profitable way to manage stress and induce restoration among employees.”
Golf checks both boxes, being exercise and happening outdoors. And now you have a scientific reason to use golf as a way to manage your work-related stress.
5. Provides a form of therapy
Golf’s ability to improve mental health is strong enough that it was used as a means of therapy for people either with mental-health problems or substance abuse in this 12-person study. “The findings revealed a positive influence on health and social well-being in addition to positive changes in daily activities,” the study says.