The social, low-impact sport appeals to active older adults
If you find yourself or someone you love in an (ahem) pickle over lack of exercise, may we suggest a game of pickleball? The mood- boosting sport surged in popularity, growing almost 40% over two years, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s 2022 Topline Participation Report. It’s particularly popular with older adults — and for good reason.
Benefits of the game include everything from burning calories in a low- impact way to making new friends. Relatively easy on knees and joints, pickleball can strengthen your balance and reflexes — good perks in your golden years.
“We started offering pickleball in fall of 2020 and have had a very nice response to it,” says Chris Hastings, president of Chicago Sport & Social Club. The organization currently has 350 active pickleball players in its leagues but expects to reach more than 1,000 by the end of the year.
For the uninitiated, pickleball was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington, by friends who wanted to play badminton but couldn’t find the right rackets. By using pingpong paddles and a perforated plastic ball instead, they kicked off something so fun it became a whole new sport.
Now, singles or doubles play pickleball on a badminton-sized court with a low net, a perforated plastic ball, and composite or wooden paddles roughly twice the size of pingpong paddles.
“I’d call pickleball a paddle sport,” Hastings says. “You basically use a wiffle ball and hit it over a net, like with tennis or badminton. It’s a combination of all those things.”
Fans love it — especially how easy it is to play, right off the bat (err, paddle). Because exercise can improve cardiovascular health, playing the game may help older adults reduce their risk of hypertension and heart attacks. Before starting any new activity, though, it’s a good idea to check with your primary care physician.
To play successfully, you’ll need both hand/eye coordination and heart, says Nikki Hartel, national sponsorship director for Chicago Sport & Social Club. “While speed and endurance are helpful, the game is more about accuracy and consistency, which makes it a wonderful game for all ages,” she says.
How to Prepare for a Game of Pickleball
Once they’ve got their court time, net, paddles, and ball, how else do players prepare? They stretch. Loosening your limbs is vital for older adults because it can stave off injury.
“You want to get your quads and hamstrings stretched, as those are things that can become tight and pull,” says Chris Hastings, president of Chicago Sport & Social Club. “Any kind of movement that gets shoulders, knees, ankles, and elbows warmed up is a smart thing to do.”
Here are step-by-step instructions for stretches to warm up before your next match, with guidance from physical therapist Tara Hackney, DPT, at Athletico Physical Therapy. Always ease the stretch if you feel any pain.