Want to live longer? Consider playing golf

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Hitting the links might reduce risk of cardiovascular diseases, research finds

Those 25 million Americans who take to the golf course each week just might outlive us all.

New research suggests hitting the links at least once a month can lower the risk of death in older adults.

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"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 Dr. Adnan Qureshi, lead author and executive director of the Zeenat Qureshi Stroke Institutes and professor of neurology at the University of Missouri in Columbia.

Playing golf can reduce stress and provide needed exercise. Because of its social nature and controlled pace, the researchers found, people continue to play golf even when they’re older and even after suffering a stroke or heart attack.

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Researchers analyzed data from the Cardiovascular Health Study, which is a population-based observation of risk factors for heart disease and stroke in adults 65 and older.

For 10 years, participants had extensive exams each year and clinic visits every six months. After the 10 years, participants were contacted by phone to determine health status.

Of the 5,900 participants, 384 were golfers. Of those golfers, 8.1% suffered a stroke during the follow-up, and 9.8% had a heart attack. But when researchers looked at death rates, the golfers’ was much lower — 15.1%, compared to 24.6% for nongolfers.

"While walking and low intensity jogging may be comparable exercise, they lack the competitive excitement of golf," Qureshi said. "Regular exercise, exposure to a less polluted environment and social interactions provided by golf are all positive for health. Another positive is that older adults can continue to play golf, unlike other more strenuous sports such as football, boxing and tennis. Additional positive aspects are stress relief and relaxation, which golf appears better suited for than other sports."

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The research was presented Thursday at the American Stroke Association's International Stroke Conference in Los Angeles.

"The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans does not yet include golf in the list of recommended physical activities,” Qureshi said. “We are hopeful our research findings could help to expand the options for adults to include golf."