Looking for a New Way to Exercise, Have Fun and Meet People Become a Pickler!

Even though boomers are known for setting trends, I’m a
little embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t heard about pickleball, which
arguably has become the hottest sports trend with the over-60 crowd.

“Picklers,” as they like to call themselves, are passionate
about the sport, and many swear that it has changed their lives for the better.

After learning more about pickleball and its benefits, I
can tell you that I am ready to join the ranks of the more than 3.3 million
“picklers,” the overwhelming majority of whom are over 55, in the United

So what exactly is this sport that, according to the U.S.A.
Pickleball Association
, is played in all
50 states and has seen an almost 10 percent
growth in players over the past three years?

The Essence of Pickleball

Most people describe pickleball as a cross between tennis,
badminton, and ping pong with some elements of paddle tennis and racquetball
thrown in for good measure.

Much as with other racquet sports, the idea is to hit a
small, light plastic ball (similar to the familiar wiffle ball) across a net in
a way that your opponent will not be able to volley it back to you. Scoring is
similar to tennis.

The game is played either indoors or outdoors on a court
the size of a badminton court, which is perfect if you have limited motion or
joint problems since you don’t need to run as much or as far.

It can be played one-on-one (singles) or two-on-two
(doubles). The latter is especially popular among boomers for its inherent
social aspects as well as the reduced need for chasing after a shot.

And, while it definitely gives you a good workout, it
doesn’t require the same level of physical conditioning or athleticism as
tennis, golf, skiing, or other sports demand.

Pickleball also is not as expensive as other sports. A good
racquet costs between $50 and $150 and, should a player wish to join, a
year-long membership to the U.S.A. Pickleball Association is $20 a year, which
includes a variety of benefits.

Many locations, such as retirement communities, local
sports parks and sporting clubs offer pickleball courts, many for use with no
charge or a minimal fee. As of last count, there were over 15,000 courts in the U.S.

And, in case you’re wondering about where the game and its
quirky name came from, it was invented 55 years ago near Seattle by a group of
dads who were looking for something to keep their kids entertained during
summer vacation.

As far as the name, one story is that one dad’s family dog
would chase the ball when the kids were playing. And, you guessed it, his name
was Pickles.

Another version of the story is that the game’s combination
of elements from other sports reminded one of the dad’s wives of the pickle
boat in crew. Whichever version is true (perhaps both are), the name
“pickleball” stuck.

Pickleball Benefits for Boomers

In addition to being a lot of fun to play, pickleball
offers us boomers a combination of health, social, and emotional benefits that
are hard to find anywhere else. These include:

Higher Level of Muscle Activity

Increased muscle strength and
muscle tone are a given since you are running
and carrying your body weight around the court.

Stress Management

Since playing pickleball helps release endorphins, which
are the “feel good” chemicals in your brain, and adds a social element to your
day, it has great stress reduction benefits.

Improved Cardiovascular Health

Better cardiovascular health is a
nice benefit which can help reduce your blood
pressure as well as the risk of stroke and heart attack.

To point out, a
recent study
in the International Journal of Research in Exercise Physiology found
middle-aged and older adults who played one hour of pickleball three days per
week for six weeks improved their blood pressure, cholesterol, and
cardiorespiratory fitness levels.

Weight Management

When you play pickleball you are burning around 40 percent
more calories than you would by just walking. In fact, research indicates that
a 150-pound person can burn 250 calories playing pickleball with only 30
minutes of casual play.

Better Cognitive Function

Pickleball protects cognitive
function, since you are communicating with
your partner in doubles, thinking through game strategies and giving your
reflexes a real workout.

Building Social Engagement

Social connections counter the isolation many boomers face and help prevent
depression, low self-esteem, and loss of independence. In fact, a
study done by Leisure Studies
found that boomers who played in pickleball tournaments
had a lower risk of depression.

Pure Enjoyment

When an exercise activity is fun,
it’s easier to commit to, which can help you to
better achieve your fitness goals. This is very important since only about 20
percent of adults get the recommended amount of physical activity they should
be getting.

Good Balance

Many sports increase your
balance, and better balance can help reduce
your risk of falls as well as improve your overall agility and range of

Help with Parkinson’s

Pickleball can help you manage
Parkinson’s symptoms as it combines hand and
eye coordination that is considered excellent therapy for those suffering from this
disease. This is not surprising since exercise is usually a key part of
Parkinson’s symptom management.

Mixing Generations

Another benefit of pickleball is that it’s a great game to
play with your kids and grandkids. One “pickler” reported seeing boomers
teaching the sport to younger family members. Others have reported local kids
walking by a court, seeing the game, asking about it, and then even joining in.

Getting the Most out of Pickleball

Like any other physical activity, before taking to the
pickleball court, you should first check with your doctor to make sure you can
engage in this level of physical activity.

Once you have the go-ahead, you should also make sure that
you are taking the right steps to reduce any potential injury as well as make
sure your body is getting the right nutritional “fuel” to maximize both your
enjoyment of playing pickleball and its benefits.

Invest in Protective Equipment

The first thing to do is make sure you have supportive
shoes to help protect against twisting your ankle or knee as well as
stabilizers/supports if needed for your knees, wrist, or forearm. You can find
both at any sporting goods store.

Do Warm-Ups

You also need to remember to always, always warm-up before
playing pickleball – or any other sport for that matter. This, along with
stretching and cooling down after your play, will go far in helping you avoid
any injuries.

Don’t Forget Nutrition

As with almost every aspect of our
health and physical performance, making sure our bodies are getting the
nutrients they need (and when they need them) is important for all “picklers,”
whether you’re new to the game or have been playing for a while.

Most experts agree that you will want to make sure to have
some carbohydrates an hour or so before you play. You don’t want to overdo it,
so consider something simple such as a few banana slices with some oatmeal,
some cereal (no sugar added, of course), a fruit-and-protein smoothie or some

Water Is a Must

The most important thing to
consume while you’re on the court is water. I can’t tell you how important it
is to stay hydrated in general and especially when we’re playing sports or
doing exercise.

And, when you’re done, make sure to replenish the nutrients
and water you lost while playing. I personally like to have some fresh fruit
and nuts after I hike or play any sport with a large water chaser!

Have you or do you now play pickleball? How did you get started? If you
play, what health or other benefits have you noticed? What advice would you
give your fellow boomers who may be considering it? Please join the