Why golf counts as exercise

Thomas Tanner
Sep 01, 2023
9 minutes
On this page

It has long been established that golf has the ability to ‘spoil a good walk’, but just how good is that walk for you?

Golf is great exercise and tick all the boxes for what most people are looking for.

  • You’re outside in the fresh air
  • You’re never standing still
  • You’re keeping your heart in the right zone

There are the tangible benefits that you can track with just your watch or fitness tracker – how many steps do you take, how many calories do you burn, how far do you actually walk? But there are many other hidden benefits to golf that are much more difficult to track – how it makes you feel, how it changes your body in the long term, and many others.

But at its core, golf is great exercise. It’s outside in the fresh air., low impact, almost constant movement for up to 4 hours, some spikes in heart rate (hills and swings)

But how good for you is it actually?

R&A Report

The R&A has taken the lead on studying and more importantly communicating the benefits of golf. Over the course of a 5 year period looked at every aspect of golf – physical, mental, playing and spectating to produce a comprehensive report on how good golf is for you! Some highlights are below:

  • You can play golf from 4 years old to 104
  • Golfers live 5 years longer
  • Golf, as a physical activity, can help prevent and treat over 40 major chronic diseases
  • In a regular 18-hole course, most players will walk between 4 and 5 miles and burn up to 2,000 calories
  • Depending on where the ball goes, you can walk up to 13,000 steps during 18-holes, well above the recommended 10,000 (https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/exercise/running-and-aerobic-exercises/walking-for-health/)
  • Even during 9-holes you can still walk up to 3 miles and cover over half you recommended step count
  • If you play golf for 150 minutes a week, you’re meeting the WHO global exercise guidelines
  • Golf has been shown to improve strength and balance in older people
  • Golf can help improve cholesterol, body composition, and your metabolism
  • 51% of the general population consider themselves in good health, this rises to 72% of golfers
  • 80% of golfers are happy with their social life, compared to 60% of the general population, and less likely to be ‘at risk of loneliness’
  • The full report is available for you to read on the R&A website.

Tracking The Doc playing 18 holes

As a self-confessed fitness fanatic The Doc was more than excited when we asked him to play 18-holes and track various fitness metrics as he went along.

Over the course of 18-holes we’re going to track and look at three areas which will give a great overview of what actually happened during a round of golf:

  • How many steps did The Doc take?
  • How many calories did he burn?
  • What was the impact on his heart rate?

How far do you walk in a round of golf?

On average, a golfer can walk around 4 to 5 miles (6 to 8 km) during an 18-hole round of golf.

During his round, Donal’s watch said he covered a distance of 8.4km or 5.2 miles which is far greater than the 5.8km or 3.6 miles playing distance. It’s actually 44% further than the distance on the card so there is a lot more to golf than just walking from tee to green.

But what about the magic step-count? The recommended daily count is around 10,000 steps and after 9-holes Donal had already over 5,727, more than half and over the course of 18-holes covered 10,691 steps.

How many calories do you burn playing golf?

If you're walking the course and carrying your clubs, you can burn around 300 to 400 calories per hour playing golf.

The general recommendation intake of calories is 2,000 for women and 2,500 for men. During the first 4-holes of his round Donal burnt 173cal and after completing 18-holes he had burnt over 1000cal. But what does this all mean, can you indulge post round in a guilt free treat?

If you burn more calories than you take in you will lose weight so of course you can! You’ve just used up a lot of fuel so you need to replace it. If during your round you had a chocolate bar and a drink for some energy, and then a beer and burger post round, that is going to be about the same number of calories as you’ve just burnt.

We’re not nutritionists but the 19th is there to be enjoyed (in moderation!).

Is golf good for your heart?

Golf gives you all the benefit of walking with the added enjoyment of the game itself. Walking is generally considered a beneficial and low-impact form of exercise that offers a variety of health benefits such as improving cardiovascular health, aid in weight management by burning calories, and is more gentle on the joints compared to high-impact exercises.

We think golf is pretty easy exercise, perhaps only beaten but a quick jog in terms of simplicity. So, to set a baseline, The Doc when for a light 45 minute jog to see what happened to his heart rate. His average heart rate during this job was 115 bpm.

During 18-hole his average heartrate was 98bpm, as expected, far lower then the run. As a further comparison Donal burned just 416cal during his run and would have to run for over 90 minutes to burn the equivalent calories his round of golf burned.

The benefits of low heart rate training

"Playing a round golf with a low heart rate is super for enhancing endurance and maintaining overall health. You get short periods of moderate exertion mixed with mostly periods of lower intensity, which is great in promoting cardiovascular fitness and efficient energy utilisation. By keeping the heart rate relatively low, golf trains the body to rely on aerobic pathways, fostering better oxygen delivery to muscles and promoting fat metabolism. This not only strengthens the entire cardiovascular system but also helps in weight management and improved overall well-being, making golf an enjoyable way to build endurance and stay healthy."

- Donal Hughes

What can we learn from all this?

Step count: 10,691

Walking a full round of golf is going to see you exceed the recommended daily step count.

Distance covered: 8.4km or 5.22 miles

Way more than the total distance of the golf course. About 40% more!

Heart rate: 98bpm

Golf is a lower heartrate form of exercise. You heart will be in the perfect zone for improving your general endurance: your body will get better at burning fat and your muscular fitness will increase. For reference, Doc’s average heartrate was 115bpm when jogging on the treadmill for 45 minutes.

Calories: 1,027cal

If you look at the calories burned during the jog (416cal), you would have to jog for over 90 minutes to get the same benefit.

What next?

One of the interesting What’s next from the Golf and Health Report conducted by the R&A is Golf on prescription. There are currently two ‘golf on referral’ schemes which have been identified and monitored in the UK and are already showing promising results.

Just further confirmation of how good for you golf really is!

Further reading

It's fair to say that you want to know that the golf clubs and equipment you're using is as good as your playing partners when you're standing on the first tee. None of us wants to be at a disadvantage because of our equipment.

If you're new to golf and looking forward to getting out for your first game but don't know what actual golf clubs you'll need to start, this page is especially for you. In the guide below we're going to put any thoughts about not having the right or enough clubs to bed, and show you that golf can be played and enjoyed with just a few clubs in your bag.