Does lawn mowing or golf meet the recognized exercise guidelines to improve health?

The Introduction

golferAs a sport and exercise scientist, I’m often asked by non-athletic mates whether golf is enough to ‘keep fit’ or is ‘good exercise’. Well someone has done the research and I can now answer them with authority – the answer is no to ‘keep fit’ but yes to ‘good exercise’!

The Research

This study compared the intensity (how hard people exercise at) and energy cost (calories used) of playing 9 holes of golf with 40 minute of lawn mowing in older men and determined whether both met the current American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommendations for health benefits. Eighteen healthy but untrained older men (age 71.2 ± 4.4 years) completed a treadmill test in a laboratory to determine their aerobic capacity and maximum heart rates. During golfing and lawn-mowing field tests, oxygen consumption and walking velocity and distance were measured using a portable oxygen measuring system and global positioning system (GPS) receiver. Golfing was done pulling their own cart and clubs and at their own self-selected pace. The 40-minute mowing session was done on a flat surface using a standard non-propelled mower and a ‘normal-house’ sized grassed area turning 1800 every 15 meters and mowing at their own self-selected pace.

The Results

The energy expenditure of golfing and lawn mowing were 310 and 246 calories, respectively. The average intensities in metabolic equivalents (called METS) of golfing and lawn mowing were 2.8 ± 0.5 and 5.5 ± 0.9, respectively. When classified in terms of heart rate intensity, approximately 54% of a typical nine-hole golf session was spent at the ‘moderate’ and ‘hard’ ACSM intensity classifications, 39% was spent at the ‘light’ classification, and 4% at a ‘very hard’ classification. For lawn mowing, 83.3% of the 40-min session was spent at the ‘moderate’ and ‘hard’ intensity classifications. The results suggest only lawn mowing meets the ACSM 2007 intensity recommendations of 5.5 METS.

The So What?

The number of calories consumed was about the same as a 25 minute jog or 50 minutes weights workout so does have benefits for weight control. The study supports the potential health benefits of golf and lawn mowing. Those who golf while pulling a cart or mow the lawn regularly can expend sufficient energy to improve their health. However, just less than 5 hours of golfing (approximately 285 min) is required to meet the ACSM guidelines (700–2,000 Calories/week), and less than 2 hours (approximately 115 min) of lawn mowing per week would meet the same guideline. The findings also indicate that a considerable portion of golfing and lawn mowing is spent above the intensity range recommended by the ACSM. Two hours of lawn mowing may not be practical each week, so maybe two nine hole rounds of golf while pulling a cart and one 40-min session of lawn mowing could meet the guidelines for health benefits.

Dear, J., Porter, M., Ready, A. (2010). Energy expenditure during golfing and lawn mowing in older adult men. Journal of Aging and Physical Activity.18(2): 185-200.

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