Is Pickleball Good Exercise?

An older man playing Pickleball

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Pickleball is growing wildly in popularity across the nation. But is it good exercise? Matthew Moralle, MD, FAAOS, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine physician, shares some insight on the topic.

What Is Pickleball?

Pickleball is a paddle sport, often described as a cross between tennis, badminton and ping pong. It has unique paddles, balls, courts and rules, and can be played indoors or out. The game started in 1965 as a backyard family game, and it’s now played everywhere, from school playgrounds to neighborhood courts and senior centers.

Health Benefits of Pickleball

Pickleball is particularly popular among middle-aged and older Americans because it’s fun, social and low impact — all of which translate to a host of health benefits, including:

  • Enhanced cognitive (thinking) skills – exercise is good for your body and brain. Because pickleball requires quick thinking and reaction times, it may slow down age-related cognitive decline.
  • Increased balance and coordination – the quick and lateral moves required during a game of pickleball require balance and coordination, both essential to reduce your risk of falls.
  • Improved heart health – pickleball is a full-body, cardiovascular activity that burns calories and lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
  • Improved sleep quality – because exercise tires you out, it helps you sleep better at night. Bonus points if you play outside, which helps establish your body’s internal sleep-wake cycle.
  • Less stress and depression – playing with others creates social connection, which has been shown to improve mood and overall well-being.
  • Longer life span – a recent study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that adding just 10 minutes a day of physical activity extends life expectancy and reduces the risk of death.
  • Stronger muscles and bones exercising builds stronger muscles and bones, and building bone strength is necessary to prevent osteoporosis.

“Current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend adults get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week for optimal health,” shares Dr. Moralle. “Pickleball is considered a moderate-intensity activity, so grab a paddle and a partner and start reaping those benefits.”

Common Pickleball Injuries

Like any sport or physical activity, there’s always a risk of injury. Some common pickleball injuries include:

  • Joint inflammation and tendonitis
  • Ligament sprains
  • Strained, stretched or torn muscles

“Because of all the lunging, twisting, reaching and swinging required during a game of pickleball, these injuries commonly affect your back, shoulders, elbows, knees and ankles,” explains Dr. Moralle. “But thankfully, there are steps you can take to minimize your risk of injury.”

How To Prevent Pickleball Injuries

The risk of injury shouldn’t keep you off the court. With a little preparation, you have the power to reduce your risk and play safely.

To prevent injuries, Dr. Moralle suggests the following:

  • Check with your doctor – your primary care provider can help ensure you’re healthy enough to play.
  • Get enough sleep – drowsiness can lead to missteps and falls.
  • Fuel properly – eat a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables and lean protein to keep you energized.
  • Drink plenty of water – staying hydrated even in cooler temperatures is important.
  • Dress appropriately – wear supportive shoes, like court sneakers and moisture-wicking layers, and consider protective goggles if you wear eyeglasses.
  • Stretch – warm up before playing with a few minutes of active stretching to raise your heart rate. Cool down after with slower, more static stretches to lower your heart rate and slow your breathing.
  • Take it slow – if you’re new to the game or physical activity in general, start with shorter games, maybe only once or twice a week. Take breaks as needed and take days off from playing to allow your body to recover.

Let Us Help You Stay in the Game

Whether you’re new to pickleball or a tournament pro, injuries can happen. And we’re here for you when they do. If you get hurt or the soreness doesn’t go away, schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic experts for a full evaluation.

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