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Does golf offer health benefits? It depends

Cold weather may be gripping much of the United States, but avid golfers are likely dreaming of the days a few months from now when they can break out their used golf clubs and hit the links. In fact, the 2013 PGA Tour season kicked off in earnest on Thursday with Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and the other top golfers teeing off at the Farmers Insurance Open. Though millions of people both young and old play golf, the same debate happens every year - is golfing strenuous enough to be considered a sport? Or is it just a hobby?

Most people who have been walking the course in the middle of summer can attest that a day golf can leave a person drained, and there is a considerable amount of research that backs that up. Some of the most compelling evidence comes from a study performed at the Harvard School of Public Health. Experts found that golfers can reap considerable heart health benefits if they go about it the right way. They found that the benefits arise from walking the course rather than swimming the clubs. In fact, walking an average 18 holes covers about four miles. In other words, if given the choice, golfers should ditch the cart and carry their secondhand golf equipment themselves. 

Along with recognizing the physical benefits of golf, other people stand firmly behind the opportunities it provides to improve mental well-being. Most casual players head to their local course to clear their head, and it's hard to envision a better way to get away from it all than enjoying a four- or five-hour walk. The benefits aren't just anecdotal either, a 2008 study from Sweden highlighted the fact that the death rate for golfers is about 40 percent lower compared to people the same age, part of which might be due to the fact it improves mental health.

“People play golf into old age, and there are also positive social and psychological aspects to the game that can be of help.” professor Anders Ahlbom said.

So is golf truly considered a sport? That will still be up for debate for decades to come, but it's clear that depending on how a golfer goes about playing, walking instead of riding and with a group of friends, it can be good for his or her health.

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