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Sizing up the potential health benefits of pickleball
Pickleball courts are packed, and players may or may not realize all they are gaining from participation in this wildly popular sport.

Anyone who lives in close proximity to a pickleball court can no doubt attest to the popularity of the sport. According to the 2023 Topline Participation Report from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, pickleball participation grew by 159 percent between 2019 and 2022. Such figures are a testament to the popularity of a sport that has reinvigorated millions of players’ enthusiasm for physical activity and team sports.

The thrill of competition and the joy of social interaction undoubtedly have contributed to the popularity of pickleball, but those are not the only benefits to participating in this fast-growing sport. Indeed, there are many potential health benefits to pickleball as well.

Pickleball provides a fun way to embrace physical activity. It’s easy to lose interest in an exercise regimen characterized by time on a treadmill and traditional strength training in a gym setting. Though cardiovascular exercise and strength training are vital components of successful exercise regimens, it’s important that individuals make their fitness routines enjoyable, which increases the likelihood that they will remain committed to less sedentary lifestyles. The SFIA report found that players deemed pickleball 150 percent more enjoyable than walking for 30 minutes.

Pickleball provides social benefits that positively affect long-term health. According to Duke Recreation & Physical Education at Duke University, pickleball has earned a reputation as an inclusive, community-building activity. The socialization aspect of pickleball should not be overlooked when discussing the health benefits of the sport. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, loneliness can increase a person’s risk for mental health issues like depression and additional problems like heart disease, dementia and stroke. By engaging in social activities like pickleball, individuals can reduce their risk for loneliness, which can improve their overall quality of life and may lower their chances of developing potentially deadly health problems.

Pickleball can lead to a healthier heart. A study from Apple that is examining the effects of pickleball participation on heart health has thus far found that playing pickleball helps players reach moderate to vigorous heart rate zones. Cardiologist and Harvard Medical School professor of medicine Dr. Calum MacRae notes that ample time in moderate heart rate zones has been found to improve cardiac fitness.

Pickleball can benefit brain health. MacRae, one of the Apple study’s lead investigators, notes that pickleball is one of various activities that also can improve memory and recall over time. The physical benefits of pickleball may not be lost on players, but some may be surprised to learn the sport offers cognitive health benefits as well. A 2023 study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology found that pickleball participation led to significant improvements in personal well-being, life satisfaction and happiness.