Pickleball, anyone? 

You know you need to work out, and you believe the benefits, but maybe you haven’t landed on an activity you really vibe with. You’ve probably also heard all the talk and even news stories about pickleball. Besides having just a really fun name that practically promises a good time, pickleball (and other racquet sports like racquetball and tennis) really could become your thing if you’re willing to give them a try!

The new sport on the block: pickleball. What is it and how popular is it? 

According to a recent article on the popularity of pickleball in The New York Times, pickleball is America’s fastest-growing sport, growing nearly 40 percent between 2019 and 2021. The game, played both indoors and outdoors on a 20 by 44 feet court, has a net shorter than a tennis net which–score!–makes it easier to hit over. (fun fact: it can also be played on half of a tennis court if you’re in a “pickle” and can’t find a regulation court!) Speaking of scoring, “the most savage shot is called a “dink” that you hit into a zone called ‘the kitchen.’” (Why is Pickleball So Popular, nytimes.com). Games are played to 11 points, with points scored only by the serving team, and a two-point spread wins the game.

Pickleball and other racquet sports are more than just fun games, though. Playing them provides some pretty great health benefits as well. Let’s take a look at some of these benefits.

Health Benefits of Racquet Sports

  1. You’ll attain a higher health rate and burn more calories than walking

    According to the New York Times article, “researchers found that compared to walking at a self-selected pace for half an hour, people who played doubles pickleball for half an hour had 14 percent higher heart rates and burned 36 percent more calories. Another study from Western Colorado University found that picklers averaged a heart rate of 109 beats per minute and burned 354 calories per hour, which qualifies it as a moderate-intensity workout alongside hiking, yoga and water aerobics. (nytimes.com)

    And how about this stunning statistic from the British Journal of Sports Medicine: in a nine-year study of volunteers that included 80,306 people ranging in age from 30 to 98, “those who regularly played racquet sports were 47% less likely to die of any cause and 56% less likely to die of cardiovascular disease.” (health.harvard.edu)

  2. Racquet sports build strength in ways others don’t.

    Besides being a great cardiovascular workout, which leads to better cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure, racquet sports offer something most other sports don’t: lateral movement. 

    Vijay A. Daryanani, a physical therapist and personal trainer with Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Outpatient Center says, “Most of our lives are spent moving forward, and that includes our exercise. Racket sports force you to move both back and forth and side to side. This helps improve balance and weight shifting, which can lower your risk of falls.” (Racquet Sports Serve Up Health Benefits, health.harvard.edu)

    Additionally, when you play a racquet sport, you are building both upper- and lower-body strength at the same time. As an added bonus, this kind of workout “sharpens your planning and decision-making skills, as you must constantly anticipate and execute your next shot.” (health.harvard.edu)

  3. In addition to body and brain benefits, pickleball and other racquet sports are uniquely social activities, so you’re more likely to stick with it!

    While you may not still be committed to the same workout you resolved to do at the beginning of this year, chances are if you start pickleball now, you’ll be even more into it by the end of the year. Why? Research has shown that while 50% of people typically quit an exercise program within six months of starting it, “picklers keep coming back to the court again and again, primarily because the game is so social.” (nytimes.com). And, overall contentment, quality, and length of life are all improved  by social connections.

    So, the next time you’re considering asking a friend or another couple to join you for a drink or a meal out, consider the fun (and undeniable benefits) of playing a game of pickleball together. It’s a great social activity for people of all ages. According to the Times article, while over 50 percent of players in 2021 were over the age of 55, the fastest-growing segment of all pickleball players are under 24.

    With all this to back it up, it’s more like Pickleball, everyone!