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Teeing Up for a Healthy Heart

by Christopher X. Shade

Lush green fairways roll through stands of tall pine trees at Indian Canyon golf course in Spokane, Washington. And on these fairways, men and women of all ages are knocking around little white balls. Recently, I was among those men and women, having developed a passion for knocking a golf ball around. I realize the activity must seem absurd to some nongolfers — the strange vocabulary, the odd clothes, and the hours of concentrating on a small, white ball. But I’ve discovered one benefit of golf that few would argue with: the workout.

I have Type 1 diabetes, and like all people with diabetes, I’ve heard from my doctor about the importance of exercising and staying in good physical shape. The good news: No matter what type of diabetes you have, golf can be the exercise the doctor ordered.

It works better, however, if you walk the course. As reported in Golf Magazine’s May 2010 issue, a tester with a pedometer on a 7,000-yard course logged 16,000 steps, or eight miles. Keep in mind, however, that course length varies. A course length of 7,000 yards, though about average for those played on the PGA Tour, is probably longer than your local course. The courses I played in Spokane, for example, were generally 6,500 yards or shorter.

But even if you ride a cart to play golf, you’ll be exercising, because you always have to walk some distance to your ball. The cart rules, which outline where you’re allowed to drive the cart, dictate this. Cart rules vary from course to course, but there are some standard ones, such as to never drive up onto the tee box or the green (the area of shorter grass surrounding a hole). A course’s cart rules can change daily based on grass conditions. For example, the fairways may be wet and vulnerable to damage, so the rule becomes “cart path only.” When this is the case, you can expect to walk more. When you rent a cart, the pro shop or the starter (the person who manages the queue of players at the first tee) will tell you the day’s cart rules.

Getting started
If you already played golf when you were diagnosed with diabetes, you had a head start when it came to figuring out the “exercise” part of diabetes management. If you don’t currently play golf but think you might like to, it’s never too late to start. And unless you’re unusually talented, you may find you could spend the rest of your life “perfecting” your game.

If you’re brand-new to the game, a good first step is to call a local course or driving range and ask their advice on how to get started: They will know what resources are available in your area. Chances are, they’ll suggest you sign up for a beginner lesson with the pro at the course. (Most courses have a pro on staff.) Learning from a pro is a good way to learn proper technique and avoid injury. It is also likely to be less frustrating than trying to learn from a friend or a video. During your lessons you’ll be introduced to the gear and how to use it, learn what to wear, and learn the basics of playing the game (for example, whose turn is it to hit?). With a pro’s help, you’ll learn how to hit balls up into the air (probably on a driving range at first), before heading out for a game of 9 or 18 holes.

In my experience, golf as a sport is far more difficult than it seems it should be. I’ve practiced endlessly on driving ranges and played lots of courses, but I continue to struggle to swing just right, to hit the ball with solid contact, and to send the ball sailing in the intended direction. All too often I hit it way off to the left or right and have to go chasing after it.

But why complain? With all that chasing, I’m burning calories and building muscle. The worse I play, the more exercise I get. This is really the most advanced level of positive thinking a golfer could ever hope to achieve. I’m not really like this on the course, all the time. I’m competitive. I do want to improve my game. I want to play like the pros! On a par 3 hole, I want to hit it on the green in one shot. I rarely do that today. So I keep telling myself: While I’m working at getting to that pro level, I’m getting great exercise.

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Also in this article:
Golfing With Disabilities
Injury Prevention Resources



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Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information provided on this Web site should not be construed as medical instruction. Consult appropriate health-care professionals before taking action based on this information.



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