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Pickleball Health Benefits

April 23, 2019

The Park District of Highland Park is keeping up with the trends in pickleball and listening to interest expressed by community members for dedicated pickleball courts. This year, the District is converting two of the 12 tennis courts at Danny Cunniff Park to 6 pickleball courts and converting 1 of the 2 tennis courts at Woodridge Park into 2 pickleball courts for a total of 8 outdoor dedicated pickleball courts in Highland Park. This is in addition to the existing indoor pickleball opportunities offered by the Park District at the Recreation Center of Highland Park and Deer Creek Racquet Club.  

Pickleball, a game that combines badminton, tennis and table tennis, provides a number of health benefits—in the form of cardiovascular and metabolic responses for older adults. This is according to new research by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), which showed that pickleball enables older adults to maintain their fitness levels, leading to increased independence even as they age.

Having originated in the 1960s, pickleball uses solid paddles to hit a ball over a net and can be played in either singles or doubles. The solid paddles are made of wood or composite materials and are used to hit a perforated polymer ball over a net. The game is simple enough for beginners to older adults, but also can be fast-paced for those who are more skilled.

The key to exercise is finding a safe and effective workout that brings long-term benefits and lifelong participation. So, for the study, ACE enlisted the help of Lance Dalleck, Ph.D., and his team of researchers in the High Altitude Exercise Physiology Program at Western State Colorado University. The purpose of the study was to “quantify the acute cardiovascular and metabolic responses to pickleball, and to determine the effectiveness of a six-week pickleball intervention at positively modifying cardiometabolic risk factors.”

The research involved recruiting 15 middle-aged to older men and women (40 to 85 years of age). To quantify the acute cardiovascular and metabolic responses to pickleball, participants wore a portable calorimetric measurement system and a heart-rate monitor. The participants played four 15-minute matches (60 minutes of physical activity) three days each week.

Prior to the start of the study, all participants performed a graded exercise test on a treadmill to determine maximal heart rate (MHR) and maximal oxygen consumption (VO2 max). The following measurements were recorded at baseline: resting heart rate, body composition, fasting blood lipids, fasting blood glucose, waist circumference and weight. Those same measurements were obtained again after the six-week program in order to determine the effectiveness of pickleball at positively modifying cardiometabolic risk factors.

For example, the chronic cardiovascular and metabolic responses to pickleball showed that after six weeks, “participants saw favorable changes in high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and VO2max. Together, these equate to a positive effect on cardiometabolic health.”

Overall, the study’s primary finding 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 about 350 calories per 60 minutes of participation. Collectively, the findings support pickleball as an ideal form of physical activity for middle-aged and older adults.

This article originally appeared in the September 2018 issue of  Recreation Management Magazine