Pickleball is Booming
Get into a Pickle for Holiday Fitness
by Jyl Steinback
Forget the gherkins and dills this holiday season; there’s another pickle in town. This one offers a great way to get in shape, increase happiness and bond with family and friends. It’s pickleball: a simple-to-learn sport that requires less running than tennis and can be played both indoors and outdoors. Players use oversized ping pong-style paddles to hit a wiffle ball over a low net on a badminton-sized court.
The Economist, and other media, say pickleball is America’s fastest growing sport. While seniors are particularly drawn to it, it is also catching on with all ages. “The fast-paced games make it easier for kids to stay engaged, as well as socialize with their peers,” says Sarah Ansboury, director of pickleball at Palmetto Dunes, in South Carolina. “Many families do pickleball events for holidays and reunions. Pickleball enables people of all ages to participate.”
According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA), there are 4.8 million pickleball players in America, with 51 percent between 6 and 34 years of age. At the end of 2021, there were 9,524 pickleball courts across the U.S.
In 2020, Mecklenburg County, in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area, opened the eight-court John Stevens Pickleball Center, the eighth facility in the county where citizens can play the game. Since 2014, the number of public and private courts in the same region has soared from two to more than 100.
The SFIA says growth is happening across the country, with participation spiking 40 percent during the pandemic. In Florida, St. Lucie County unveiled four new courts at its Lakewood Regional Park in September. Even bars are getting into the act, such as Dale Z’s, in Milwaukee, which christened its pickleball court in the same month.
Being a super athlete is not a prerequisite for playing the game, according to Mac McCullough, a pickleballer in Scottsdale, Arizona. “I used to play other sports, but running and tennis got harder on my knees,” he says. “Pickleball has a lower net and a smaller court, so you aren’t running as much. Still, it gives you a good workout and it’s easier on your joints.”
A 2016 study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise confirms that pickleball provides a good workout. According to the researchers, average heart rate and peak heart rate were higher during pickleball than when walking. Participants burned 40 percent more calories in 30 minutes of the sport than in 30 minutes of walking. Additionally, the study concludes, “Pickleball is more enjoyable than walking at a self-selected speed.”
Dr. Dennis Pena, a podiatrist from Phoenix, says the game has improved his hand-eye coordination. “The more I play pickleball, the better my balance, coordination and movement get,” he says. “It’s a good cardio workout, and I just feel better overall when I play regularly.”
A study from Western State Colorado University indicates that pickleball fosters many health benefits over a wide range of ages. The study followed 15 people between 40 to 85 that played for an hour three times per week. All participants showed improvement in cardio fitness, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Research has confirmed that exercise boosts endorphins, which reduces stress and improves overall sense of well-being. A 2018 study from a group of researchers in the U.S. and South Korea showed that pickleball can help stave off depression, too. It reported that although depression rates are increasing in the U.S., people involved in “serious leisure” such as pickleball are less prone to depression.
It’s not just older people that can benefit from the recreational activity. Teen obesity rates have skyrocketed nationwide, much of it due to a lack of exercise. Pickleball could help combat this. It is fun, easy to learn, boosts cardio fitness and can be played just about anywhere. Some colleges are now even offering pickleball scholarships.
Holly Fitzgerald, a physical therapist from Woburn, Massachusetts, gives this advice on how to get ready to play the game:
Squats with body mass can help develop and stretch quadriceps and hamstrings, enabling the ability to compress leg muscles swiftly and consistently. This will help reduce gravitational pull to address the pickleball as it comes at us.
Large arm circles will stretch muscles and prepare them for the considerable movements that occur when striking a ball.
Exercises that develop the core, such as core twisting, are also beneficial.
Places2Play.org provides a search engine to help find a court anywhere in America. Pickleball is a great way to get family and friends together over the holidays and beyond. It is fun, helps nurture relationships and it is a lot healthier than grazing on holiday leftovers while scanning social media.
Jyl Steinback is the executive director of Shape Up US, creator of the Hip Hope Healthy Heart Program for Children, an author and a recipient of a Community Leadership Award from the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition. Reach her at Jyl@ShapeUpUS.org.