Anne Stein, M.S.
Sports & Fitness Journalist/Author
Getting old doesn’t mean you have to give up golf, but cross-training’s a must if you want to keep spending quality time on the course.
To put it bluntly, says Dr. Steve Hawkins, professor of exercise science at California Lutheran University, everything declines as we age. “We lose strength and power fairly significantly, about 25 percent of strength by age 65 and another 25 percent by age 85,” says Hawkins, who has studied master’s athletes over several decades. “Our cardio-respiratory endurance drops and the loss escalates after age 65. Our flexibility declines as we age, too.”
While we can’t stop the decline, not exercising accelerates all of this so it’s best to keep active. In fact, it’s best to start exercising when you’re young and stay active throughout your life, so you’ll enter middle and old age at a higher fitness level. Think of it as ‘money in the bank.’
From a golf perspective, the experienced older golfer won’t drive the ball as far because of strength and power loss. But unlike other sports which are so dependent on strength, power, and cardio respiratory fitness, there are tremendous skill and technical components to golf that aren’t as severely affected by aging. For example, older golfers tend to be more accurate than younger golfers.
So the good news is that while you may not be hitting as far, your scoring average won’t decline as much as you’d think.
While many people use golf as their sole source of exercise, it’s a pretty modestly demanding activity that won’t have a significant impact on your fitness, says Hawkins.
To remain fit, active and healthy, you’ll need to focus on cardiovascular endurance, strength training and flexibility. In other words, cross-train. Swim, bike or go for brisk walks, for example; strength train with dumb bells, bands or weight machines and stretch to maintain flexibility. The stronger you are, the farther you’ll hit the ball and the better your cardio fitness is, the less fatigue you’ll experience as you golf.
It is possible your mechanics may change as you age, so you should have your golf swing and equipment evaluated by a pro. Your club length may need to change as our posture changes with time. Hawkins offers these tips for other issues faced by older golfers:
Arthritis in the shoulders
- Have your swing and golf club length checked to make sure they’re optimal for your current condition
- Use heat, ice and anti-inflammatories if needed to treat pain
- Stay active! Exercise relieves arthritis discomfort
- Cross-train. If all you do is golf the pain may become unmanageable
- Have a health professional come up with a strength and flexibility program for muscles around the shoulder joints
- Warm up before playing
Low back and hamstring pain
- Focus on strengthening the upper and lower back and hamstrings, as well as stretching those areas. Back and hamstring weakness is a huge indicator of this pain.
- Core strength training (abs and back) are critical to physical performance
If you’ve never strength trained before, it’s never too late to start, says Hawkins. Ninety-year-olds have achieved impressive changes when they started resistance training.
Tips for the brand-new older golfer or the previously sedentary golfer
- Start a conditioning program (strength, flexibility, cardio) that’s general or golf-specific to get you ready for the stresses and strains of the game
- Proper technique/mechanics are important. Have lessons from a qualified club professional to enhance the fun of the game as well as to decrease the chance of injury
- Carrying your clubs for 18 holes (10,000-plus steps) is a huge stress for someone who’s been sedentary. Pre-conditioning is important before stepping on the course
It’s human nature not to start doing something until you see a need, says Hawkins. But if you’re serious about enjoying golf, the sooner you start cross-training, the better.