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How does pickleball help seniors?

Published: 2022-11-14
How does pickleball help seniors?
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This long-in-the-tooth penslinger has just been paroled from a health jail that shot to smithereens any resemblance of fitness a quasi-reasonable activity pace had supported for decades.

For too long now, my fitness regime has pretty much been lying flat keyboard tweaking, mostly about pickleball and its moonshot effect on sports and the fitness of my longevity-challenged peers.

On a final, personal note, while infirmed, strength and conditioning efforts were mainly relegated to fork lifting as core circumferencing attests.

As surgical deftness has erased the excruciating episodes, mandated physical therapy has sown a seed of once-again-dreams of sports performance that have supported fitness for years.


Is Pickleball healthy for old people?

It's' a strong pull.  There's all the pickleball nuance that has trickled out of this pen. 

Most attractive are the studies showing pickleball meets the criteria for older adult fitness that are universally accepted by the keepers of older adult definitions.



The United Nations says we are the folks on our planet who have made it through six decades, and the softer US Center for Disease Control &; Prevention put another half decade on official older adults.  

The lure of pickleball in a fitness program for sportsmen and women who with golden ears still hear cheers is pure.  The fun of a little competition is internally tattooed.

The lure of pickleball has resonance to bring isolating elders out of cocoons, to add pickleball's fitness, and the undeniable benefits of finding new friendships as reasons to play as Marta Zaraska's Growing Young:  How Friendship, Optimism, and Kindness Can Help You Live to 100  ably reasons.

Encouraged to speak with an older adult who has avidly become a pickleball devotee, we heard Ron Imbriale of Steamboat Springs tell us he “plays six days a week and has become addicted to pickleball.”


Ron Imbriale


Ron said his son Scott of Hollywood, MD, who holds a 5.0 pickleball rating, opened his eyes to pickleball and the rest for Ron became "unquestionably a great 2-hour workout."

Ron Imbriale's qualitative definition is an echo of many pickleballers, but for quantitative representations that pickleball fits the fitness regimen, health science calls for there are studies that support that premise.

First, let’s look at what the scientists say an older adult ought to do regularly:


Older Adult Exercise Guidelines

For substantial health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity exercise or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. Preferably, aerobic activity should be spread throughout the week.

As part of their weekly physical activity, older adults should do multi-component physical activity that includes balance training as well as aerobic and muscle strengthening activities.

Older adults should determine their level of effort for physical activity relative to their level of fitness.

Older adults with chronic conditions should understand whether and how their conditions affect their ability to do regular physical activity safely.

When older adults cannot do 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week because of chronic conditions, they should be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow.





How Much Exercise is in Pickleball?


So, regardless of the limitations some of the older adult population might have, a few friendly games of weekly pickleball might eat up a lot of that 150 minutes of moderate exercise science says we need.

And the fun factor adds ice cream to the wellness frappe that can be pickleball.

That’s precisely what the American Council of Exercise set out to do when it commissioned a study on the issue. 

As the study’s lead writer, Daniel Green described the ACE assigned research of Lance Dalleck, Ph.D., Leslie Smith M.S., and Christina Buchanan Ph.D.:  

“The key is to find that sweet spot—a safe and effective workout that yields long-term benefits and encourages lifelong participation.

Is it possible that Pickleball might be the answer that so many middle-aged and older adults are seeking?

The research team recruited 15 middle-aged to older men and women who Green writes “can attest pickleball is a lot of fun and the importance of that fun factor should not be underestimated when it comes to regular participation in physical activity.”

At the bottom line, the ACE research posits:

The primary finding of this study is that regular participation in Pickleball elicits cardiovascular and metabolic responses that meet exercise intensity guidelines for improving and maintaining cardiorespiratory fitness, with the average caloric expenditure equaling approximately 350 calories per 60 minutes of participation. Collectively, these findings support Pickleball as an ideal form of physical activity for middle-aged and older adults.

For the ultra-studious in the pickleball community, another study, this one published in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity, suggests that pickleball can provide a moderate workout to middle-aged or older people.  But, it says they would need to play pickleball 4.5 hours a week to meet recommended exercise guidelines."




Let’s see, if you play pickleball for an hour and a half, twice a week, you’re not quite at the 4.5 hours of moderate play that is suggested.   But, you’re with friends, so that’s a good thing. 

The CDC speaks to walking as a moderate exercise, so the ten or fifteen minutes to and from home to the pickleball courts would add up, twice a week.  There are 4.5 hours.

All bets are off when pickleball truly tickles your fancy, and you start playing three or four days a week like Ron.  Are you and your new pickle pals ready to add night sessions, too?

Here?  Post PT, there'll be a decision to make.  PT ends around Easter, and the lifelong lure to the links is undoubtedly strong.

When the cold comes, though shooting hoops used to assuage the exercise need, but they got too tall and too fast to keep up, and only the dreaded workout loomed.

With respect, I dislike workout gyms intensely, not for them, but for me it is boredom, it is unrelenting boredom.  Though relenting until Easter, I'm gym-bound.

After that, enjoyable buddies, play, and competition is penslinger’s bent.  And plenty of it. 

Have you ever walked the 18 stations of the course—and carried your bag?  

When the leaves fall again, pickleball teases, I’ll report.