On a drive for more fitness, fun and friends in your life? Take a swing at golf! Join more than 25 million Americans who prefer it to sweaty workouts at overcrowded gyms. You might be surprised by the health benefits you can chalk up just hiking around a grassy course soaking up sunshine with a few companions. Try these tips to get started.
Start at the Top
A sunny walk on the green not only builds the vitamin D your body needs for strong bones, but also boosts your production of that "feel-good" hormone, serotonin, and with it, your general sense of well-being. But play it smart: Wear a hat and always use sunscreen to prevent sunburn and skin cancer.
Forget the Cart
Researchers in Finland compared 55 healthy men who golfed two or three times a week to a control group of 55 men who remained inactive. After 20 weeks, golfers had trimmer waists, greater endurance and healthier cholesterol—just from walking the course and toting their own bags.
Make New Friends
Nobody plays golf alone—it's a social sport and provides plenty of time to enjoy the company of old friends or make, network with and get to know new ones.
Walking 36 holes a week in the fresh air is also a great way to unwind and leave behind workweek stresses. And, according to research by Neil Wolkodoff at the Rose Center for Health and Sports Sciences in Denver, Colorado, it burns an average 2,884 calories. And that can translate to a lower risk of heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
Get in the Swing
Studies show you'll swing your club at least 70 times playing 18 holes, stretching muscles from your shoulders to hips and wrists to ankles. While this helps maintain flexibility and tone, it's not without risks. The single easiest way to prevent a golf-related injury is to warm up for at least 10 minutes before you hit the links.
Warm Up First
Before you get into the "swing" of things with golf, you'll want to get warmed up. The golf swing is a forceful, repetitive movement that can lead to strain and overuse injuries in different parts of the body, so it's important to make sure your body is ready to go. Try these simple exercises before you hit the green.
For Your Back
Hold a golf club at both ends and put it over your head so it's resting on your upper back. With feet hip-distance apart, abdominals pulled in, chest lifted and buttocks tensed, gently twist from side to side from the trunk. Stand tall and keep your knees slightly bent as you pivot in place, turning as if you are looking from 3 o'clock to 9 o'clock. Let your back heel gently lift as you pivot. Repeat about 10 times.
For Your Lower Body
Using a golf club for balance (set the tip of the club on the ground in front of you), slowly lower yourself as if you were sitting in a chair, but stop at the point just before you lose your balance or when your hips are level with your knees. Pause, then return to the starting position. Keep your body weight centered and don't let your knees come forward over the front of your shoes. Repeat about 10 times.
—Excerpted from Reader's Digest magazine