|Monday, March 13
When warm weather breezes in, golfers seem to spring up everywhere. And many of them figure that a round of golf is all the exercise they need to stay in shape. But is it? The answer lies partly in how the golfer gets around the greens. If riding a cart is the only way you get from the first to the 18th hole, then golf is purely recreation -- not exercise. It does not take much physical exertion, after all, to swing a club and steer a cart.
On the other hand, if you quit the cart and walk the course, golf can be viewed as a supplement to a structured fitness routine. While you still need to engage in cardiovascular activities, muscular fitness exercises and flexibility exercises in order to have a comprehensive fitness program, walking the golf course turns a favorite pastime into a healthy habit.
What could be more pleasant than a brisk walk surrounded by well-manicured, rolling hills dotted with tall trees and winding streams? Walking also encourages conversation with fellow golfers, while reducing stress and elevating your mood. Now when you make a lousy shot, you can spend a few minutes walking off your frustration, affording you time to regain your composure and sense of calm.
Research has shown that walking as little as nine miles a week -- or the equivalent of 36 holes of golf -- throughout one's lifetime significantly reduces the likelihood of developing coronary heart disease. In addition, walking may increase your level of HDL (good) cholesterol and may lower your blood pressure. Studies also have shown that a weight-bearing exercise, such as walking, helps prevent the loss of bone mass (osteoporosis).
Of course, for the cardiovascular benefits of walking, you need to move continuously for at least 20 minutes -- no stopping to hit golf balls. That's why golf cannot be thought of as a fitness activity in and of itself.
Here is another plus: Walking is easy to do and the risk of injury is low. Because it is so easy to tolerate, fewer people drop out from a walking program than from a more intense form of exercise.
If you are concerned that you are too out of shape to march the fairways, consider getting a physical exam to rule out any hidden health risk factors. Also, be sure to warm up before a game by hitting a few practice balls or taking a few practice swings.
Perform stretching exercises before and after, too. One excellent stretch is the trunk rotation. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart. While gripping a golf club, hold your hands shoulder width apart in front of you. Keeping your feet stationary, slowly turn to your right as far as you comfortably can go and hold that position for 10-30 seconds. Then turn to the other side and repeat stretch.
For a second stretch, assume the same position and keep your elbows locked as you slowly raise the golf club above your head. Press back as far as you comfortably can go and hold for 10 to 30 seconds.
When you're ready to head to the 19th hole to indulge in a postgame meal and a couple of drinks, try not to recoup all the calories you just burned off. The average 190-pound man burns about 1,750 calories by walking a typical 18-hole golf course. That is a half-pound of fat many golfers would love to lose.
Skip alcoholic beverages and those with caffeine -- both are diuretics, which increase urine production and add to dehydration. The smartest, healthiest drink you can have is water, because in hot weather your body may lose up to 6 pounds of fluids by the time you get to the 18th hole of the course. If you think that extra fluid loss is not important, think again. A mere 3 percent loss of body weight from dehydration has shown to reduce muscle endurance; a 4 percent loss hampers muscle strength.
As a general rule of thumb, to avoid dehydration you should drink two to three cups before a sport, one cup every 15 to 20 minutes during it, and enough afterward to replenish your water loss. For every pound of body weight lost during a sport, drink two cups of water.
Finally, stay away from salty foods like chips, nuts and pretzels, because they restrict the absorption of fluids. Instead, snack on fruit, carrot sticks and yogurt. And, for sustained energy, feast on foods with complex carbohydrates, such as pasta and whole grains.