Therapy is an underrated tool for boosting mental health. But while we highly recommend it, what you do outside of these offices can make or break what happens inside of them.
What we mean is that it’s a good idea to optimize your diet, exercise, sunlight exposure, and stress levels when you’re living your everyday life. You may be surprised to discover how your life transforms when you change these things!
The first thing we suggest is improving your diet—get rid of processed foods, reduce sugar intake, and lower your caffeine levels. Did you know that up to 90% of our “happy hormones” are produced in the gut? Get this right first and foremost!
But it works twice as well when you pair a healthy diet with exercise. And we recommend taking up the golf clubs if you’re looking for the perfect activity to loosen up the body and tighten up the mind.
Here’s how golf can reduce stress and anxiety and, ultimately, boost your mental health and well-being in the long run.
Physical Exercise and Stress Reduction
One of the best things about golf is that it’s a light, low-impact sport that can be enjoyed by almost anyone. You’ll get a pretty decent muscular workout, and if you walk the course instead of taking the golf cart, you’ll easily get your 10k steps in!
We know that increased physical exercise gets the endorphins flowing, which means higher levels of good chemicals and lowered levels of stress hormones. You’ll also enjoy improved circulation, which really helps to pump those endorphins around the body, reducing your experience of “stress”.
You can also expect to lose extra pounds if you play golf regularly. In turn, this can contribute to increased confidence levels and a renewed sense of “I can do it!”, which can both make a positive difference to mental health.
Plus, there’s the added benefit of strolling through stunning natural surroundings—and research shows that “green exercise” has a more positive effect on mental health than working out in an urban environment.
Cognitive Benefits and Mental Stimulation
Golf is one of the best sports to engage both the body and the mind at the same time. You can just smack the golf ball around the course without putting much thought into it… But you’ll be missing a superb chance to gain amazing cognitive benefits.
If you’ve never really played golf properly before, every shot you make will be building new neural pathways or rewiring old ones. You’ll need to harness your problem-solving skills, concentration, and analytic skills in order to do things like:
- Choosing the right club for the shot
- Hitting it just hard enough not to overshoot the mark
- Navigating hazards to get you closer without dropping a shot
- Analyzing the green’s surface to decide how to play your putt
- Control your temper if a shot goes awry or gets lost in the rough!
Golf is so much more than just hitting a ball. Get your mind involved in the finer aspects of the game, and you can expect to boost cognitive abilities and benefit from mental stimulation as your neural pathways light up!
Emotional Well-Being and Self-Confidence
Golf is an excellent way to learn how to manage your emotions. You could throw the golf clubs and shout at the trees… Or, you could use it as an opportunity to deal constructively with negative emotions.
Once you discover the soaring feeling that comes with hitting a sleek, smooth shot and having it go exactly where you intended it to… You’ll spend every shot thereafter chasing that same feeling.
When the bug bites, you’ll eventually find that your time on the golf course boosts self-esteem, helps you to find creative solutions to problems, and cultivates a more positive mindset and a sense of self-achievement. All important for mental health!
For some, the social aspect of golf may also contribute positively to their mental health. Loneliness and shyness can be debilitating and lead to mental health troubles. Golf is a fun, engaging, and beautiful way to meet new people and spend time socializing on a regular basis.
Add this to the other emotional benefits, and it’s easy to see what a well-rounded sports golf truly is for improving health in every way.
Golf as a Therapeutic Tool
Golf is becoming a more popular therapeutic tool and is being used in a number of programs dedicated to physical and mental rehabilitation. The evidence is clear—playing golf provides a variety of physical, cognitive, and emotional benefits, and therapists are taking advantage of that.
Some practitioners view golf as a holistic way of bringing physical, mental, and emotional together to heal. There’s also a plethora of evidence on the positive mental effects of spending time in nature, which is proven to lower anxiety and stress levels.
So why not integrate it with therapy and recovery? The beauty of golf is that it’s no longer a sport for the rich or the upper class—everyone can participate, and you can find a good set of second-hand clubs for a relatively affordable price.
When all is said and done, while there’s plenty to be said for indoor, formal therapy sessions, what you do outside of that ties everything together. And the proof is clear for almost every aspect of the sport—golf is one of the best sports to choose if you’re determined to lower stress and boost your health in all ways.
Don’t wait for your therapist to prescribe golf to you. Go out there, find a set of clubs, and hit the driving range! Trust us, you’ll be thankful you did.
How and Where to Start Golfing
So if you’ve decided to try playing more as a way of introducing more movement and boosting your mental health, you get a big thumbs up from us! But we also know it might be difficult to figure out what steps to take to start. Here’s what we recommend.
Buy a Set of Clubs
You don’t need to go out and shop for the latest brand-named golf clubs and gear. You can find perfectly decent second-hand sets, but you should definitely get some advice on what exactly is considered “good condition”.
It’s a good idea to go get yourself properly fitted for golf clubs at a sporting store. Playing with the wrong size clubs can actually lead to injury, which is going to do worse things for your mind and body!
You also don’t need every club in the bag. As a beginner, you only need about 7 out of the full set of 14: a driver, a sand wedge, a pitching wedge, a fairway wood (or a hybrid), a 6-iron, an 8-iron, and a putter.
Alternatively, you can rent a set of clubs at most golf clubs. This is a good option if you aren’t quite sure if you’re going to like the sport. You can always buy a set later if you discover that you love the game!
Where to Golf
Once you’ve got the equipment, the next step that can be tricky is to find a place to play. The nearest golf club is probably the first thing that comes to mind, but there are other options!
At Your Local Club
The closest golf club is probably a good place to start. They may offer lessons if you want to get acquainted with the game before you get out on the full course. Most golf clubs also have a driving range, a putting green, and possibly other practice facilities, so you don’t need to hit the fairway immediately.
If you’re completely new to the game, it might be worthwhile to do a few lessons just to nail down the finer aspects of the golf swing. Why not recruit a buddy and do a few joint lessons? That gives you someone to discuss things with and to be accountable to when it comes to practicing.
At An Indoor Golf Center
For those who might not want to head straight to a golf club, indoor golfing facilities are a great option. They’re becoming more and more common, so you may be able to find something like a TopGolf facility near you.
These centers usually have multiple indoor golfing bays, which serve both golfers wanting a practice session and groups of friends wanting to have some fun together. Most of the time, these places also serve food and drinks, so it’s a much more social experience.
If you’re nervous about the idea of getting onto a golf course, this is an excellent way to get a feel for it. There’s often state-of-the-art technology involved, so you can play virtually on almost any course in the world and get real-time feedback on your swing and shots.
It’s a very low-pressure way of learning how to wield a golf club! Take a few friends, have a meal together, and hit some balls. You won’t get the benefit of strolling through nature as you do on the real course, but it’s the ideal way to introduce you to the sport.
If you’ve got the means, there’s also the option of installing a home golf simulator in your house. This is a pricey choice, but if you’re confined to the house or would prefer to play without other people around, it’s a good way to get some exercise and stimulate those neural pathways!
There’s also plenty of opportunity for socialization—invite some friends over to keep you company and play a round together. Having a simulator in your home has other benefits too—if you struggle to sleep, you can always work on your game in the early hours!
If you commit to learning the game of golf and practicing often, we can (almost) promise it’ll change your mental health and your life for the better. Between the physical, mental, emotional, and social benefits, there’s really no way to NOT experience positive effects from the sport.
We know it can be intimidating to begin. But aside from getting a good set of clubs and finding a place to play, here’s what we suggest to make the most of your new hobby.
- Download a golfing app. There are many, so do your research first.
- Learn more about the sport. YouTube is a great resource!
- Get someone else involved. A friend, family member, or coach.
- Play regularly. Once a week at the minimum – preferably twice or more.
- Don’t forget sun protection! Whether you’re at the range or the course.
- Stay hydrated while playing. It’s easy to forget to drink, which can make you feel worse.
While all sports and physical activity can alleviate stress and improve health, we particularly love golf for its body- and mind-boosting characteristics. And although we’re advocates of therapy as a mental health tool, we know that we can’t rely on therapy alone.
Taking control of your diet and movement choices is a huge step towards a better life. You have the power to make positive changes! Better gut health equals better mental health, and more activity (counterintuitively) leads to improved energy. And research backs up the effectiveness of golf as a sport for physical and mental health.
In the end, we’re in the business of helping you create a life worth living. If you’re not sure where to start, pick up a golf club. You may be surprised at how well it works to reduce your stress and anxiety… And how much you have come to love your time on the golf course!
About the Author
Jordan Fuller is a retired golfer and businessman. When he’s not on the course working on his own game or mentoring young golfers, he writes in-depth articles for his website, Golf Influence.