Do you know pickleball? This racket sport, halfway between tennis, badminton and ping-pong, is already unanimous in the United States, and has more and more fans in Europe. This is good, since a new study praises its benefits for physical and mental health, allowing players to work on their endurance and improve their cardio and respiratory capacity, without neglecting its positive impact on well-being.
Totally unexpected, the success of pickleball turns out to be excellent news for the fight against a sedentary lifestyle, and compliance with health recommendations in terms of physical activity. This sport, born in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, a few kilometers from Seattle, took a long time to find its audience, but is today experiencing meteoric growth – one of the fastest in the world. In the United States, more than 48 million adults have practiced this activity at least once in the last twelve months, or nearly 19% of the total adult population, reveals the Association of Pickleball Players (APP). There were ‘only’ 36.5 million a few months earlier, testifying to the spectacular rise of this sport which is now establishing itself in Europe.
In the spotlight, pickleball is now the subject of scientific studies to determine its health benefits. The latest, the Apple Heart and Movement Study, was conducted by the technology giant in collaboration with Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the American Heart Association, with more than 200,000 participants across the United States. Which have agreed to share their data, collected via the Apple Watch, allowing scientists to analyze more than 250,000 pickleball and… tennis training sessions. One of the objectives? Compare the health benefits of these two activities.
Not just for the elderly
Long associated with a sport for people in their sixties, pickleball actually brings together all generations, as this new study reveals. “Pickleball and tennis workouts were popular among all adults, regardless of age, and were more successful among men than women“, we can read. A finding which confirms data from the Association of Pickleball Players, estimating the average age of practitioners of this sport at 34.8 years. While recent studies have highlighted the benefits of this activity for the health of older adults, allowing them to achieve health recommendations for moderate to vigorous physical activity, it turns out that pickleball would be just as beneficial for younger people.
“Physical inactivity is a modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular disease and a number of other chronic diseases. Finding an activity you enjoy participating in can help create a routine, whether it’s picking up a paddle board or a snowshoe“, explains Sumbul Desai, vice-president in charge of health at Apple. Considered a fun activity, which allows you to play sport (almost) without realizing it, pickleball would have surpassed tennis this summer in terms of number of participants during the same month, hence the interest in comparing the advantages.
As many benefits as tennis
Among the findings of the study, the duration of training sessions was found to be longer for pickleball players, albeit subtly, than for tennis players, namely 90 minutes versus 81 minutes. However, this work shows thattennis workouts lasted on average longer in more intense heart rate zones and had a higher average maximum heart rate“. In detail, the researchers indicate that the average maximum heart rate observed was nine beats per minute higher for tennis, namely 152 beats per minute compared to 143 for pickleball. Data which, however, demonstrates the physical intensity of this growing racket sport, beneficial for heart health.
“Pickleball and tennis workouts were often performed for extended periods of time, with participants averaging a maximum heart rate within 70% of their estimated maximum heart rate during the recorded workouts. Regular physical activity is associated with better quality of life and healthy aging“, we can read in the study. And that’s not all, since pickleball is also associated with better mental health. Conclusions obtained using a depression screening tool, the Patient Health Questionnaire-2 (PHQ-2)
According to the scores obtained, pickleball would be slightly more effective than tennis in reducing the risk of depressed mood. “The probability that the PHQ-2 results suggested a depressed mood was 60.1% lower among heavy pickleball players and 51.3% lower among tennis players compared to all participants, which reinforces the potential benefits of physical activity on mental well-being“, the study says. “We are pleased to see the results relating to pickleball included in the Apple Heart and Movement Study (…). Pickleball courts have many benefits for people of all ages and backgrounds, as part of a healthy, social and active lifestyle“, emphasizes Mike Nealy, general manager of USA Pickleball.
These conclusions confirm the health benefits of pickleball highlighted by researchers at North Carolina State University last April. This pilot study conducted on 33 adults aged 65 and over playing pickleball at least twice a week also showed benefits for the heart. A session of this sport would allow them to practice moderate to vigorous physical activity for more than 68 minutes on average, and to work on their endurance and respiratory capacity.