Investing in golf for healthier Kiwis

By Andrew Whiley
A voice from the south

As we head towards the general election and healthcare becomes an issue, I am surprised that sports like golf are not rated high enough by the government and other political aspirants.
Involvement in golf, and sport in general, is a way to live a healthier lifestyle, to decrease healthcare costs and generally have citizens that live happier and longer.
Last month the news was full of stories about New Zealanders, especially women, being among the world’s most sedentary people.  The Activity Inequality Project, by Stanford University, charted the average daily steps of people in countries worldwide by tracking the data from an application on participants’ cellphones.
New Zealand was ranked 35th out of 46 countries. The study found the average Kiwi walked just 4582 steps daily. Even people from countries such as the United States, often thought of as the unhealthiest country in the world, walked more than New Zealanders.
I do know that many people do not take their cellphones on a walk so perhaps the data can be misleading.  For example, what happens when you leave your cellphone in your car when you arrive at the golf course?  It will show you as inactive for those hours.
So what are the health benefits of playing golf?
In October 2016, chief medical officer at the European Tour Golf, Dr Roger Hawkes, and lead researcher Dr Andrew Murray of the University of Edinburgh, made a presentation to the United Kingdom parliament, which included MPs and associate members, on the health benefits of the game of golf. This presentation was supported by research from the World Golf Foundation, with the aim to increase interest and participation in golf.
The presentation focused on the considerable physical and mental health benefits of golf. The research carried out by the project had found that key benefits included improvements in life expectancy, improved cholesterol levels and body composition plus golf was expected to decrease the risk of over 40 major chronic diseases. It also appears to improve overall wellness and self-confidence.
Dr Murray added that it was clear that golf has overall health benefits which for many years have been underplayed.
Golf can provide health benefits for people of all ages and backgrounds, providing moderate intensity physical activity. This has a key role in improving life expectancy, helping to prevent major chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart attacks, and improving mental health. The golf and health project has brought together golf organisations from across the world, including partners such as the Royal and Ancient, the PGA’s of Europe and the European Tour.
An earlier Swedish study found that golfers have a 40 percent lower death rate, which corresponds to a five-year increase in life expectancy.  The Norwegian Golf Federation revealed that a golfer walks over 8km and burns around 2500 kilocalorie during an 18-hole round of golf.  Other benefits from these studies showed reduced stress levels, improved sleep and as golf is a low-impact activity, that there is a very low injury risk.
A great report that is important for New Zealanders was undertaken in Australia by Victoria Golf and was titled: The Community Impact of Golf.  The physical health benefits contribute $32.7 million per year due to the prevention of ischemic heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, colorectal cancer and breast cancer.  Golf’s mental health benefits contribute $1.1 million per year due to the prevention of anxiety and depression.
When I look at the investment made in smoke free activities and other government initiated medical-related campaigns, I believe there needs to be a greater investment in getting our country more active and into sports like golf.
In June 2015, New Zealand Transport Agency chief executive Geoff Dangerfield said that total investment in cycling over the next three years was expected to be between $380m and $400m, delivering over 250km of new urban cycleways.  Cycling was now the fastest growing mode of transport in several cities and towns, he said.
“Put simply, cycling is good for our cities, it’s good for the environment and it’s good for our health.”
I don’t disagree with some of the above statements, but I think it is important to be realistic.  Less than one percent or a $2m annual investment in golf would have a dramatic impact on introducing more New Zealanders to the game and be able to present the recreational, health and social benefits to a wider audience.  Cycling may be good for our cities and health but golf is great for our body and soul.
I call on everyone involved in the game of golf, from those in leadership roles at New Zealand Golf, from regional association level and club levels, to those at a political or medical level to speak up and request that the government make a greater investment in the game of golf for a mentally stronger and healthier New Zealand.

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