Golfer Teeing Off

Golf May Have More Benefit for Parkinson’s than Tai Chi.

When it comes to exercise that does the most good for people with Parkinson’s disease, golf may hit above par when compared to tai chi. That’s according to a preliminary study that will be presented at the American Academy of Neurology’s 73rd Annual Meeting being held virtually from April 17 to April 22, 2021. The study found that golf was better than tai chi for improving balance and mobility.

“We know that people with Parkinson’s disease benefit from exercise, but not enough people with the disease get enough exercise as therapy,” said study author Anne-Marie A. Wills, M.D., of Massachusetts General Hospital Boston and a member of the American Academy of Neurology. “Golf is popular—the most popular sport for people over the age of 55—which might encourage people to try it and stick with it. We decided to compare golf to tai chi in our study because tai chi is the gold standard for balance and preventing falls in people with Parkinson’s.”

The study involved 20 people with moderate Parkinson’s disease. Everyone was offered 10 weeks of two one-hour group classes per week of golf or tai chi at no cost. Eight people were randomly assigned to practice their golf swing at a driving range while 12 did tai chi.

At the start and again at the end of the study, researchers evaluated everyone with tests, including one that measures balance, walking ability and risk of falling in older adults. For the test, a person is timed while getting up from a chair, walking 10 feet and then returning to the chair and sitting down.

The golfers were 0.96 seconds faster on the test at the end of the study, while those who did tai chi were 0.33 seconds slower.

“While the results for golf might be surprising, it’s important to remember that the number of participants in our study was small, and the period over which we studied them was relatively short,” Wills said. “More research in larger groups of people, over longer periods of time, is needed.”

Researchers said overall satisfaction with their sport was similar in both groups, however, 86% of golfers compared to 33% of tai chi participants were “definitely” likely to continue the activity.

Parkinson's Disease
Parkinson’s Disease

“Our finding that golfers were much more likely to continue with their sport is exciting because it doesn’t matter how beneficial an exercise is on paper if you people don’t actually do it,” Wills said. “So if swinging a golf club is more appealing than practicing tai chi, by all means, go to a driving range and hit balls for an hour instead!”

Other than muscle pain from golf, there was no difference between the two groups in the number of falls or other problems.

The study was supported by philanthropists Jim and Lucy Fox. Joe & Leigh’s Golf Performance Center in South Easton, Mass., provided free lessons to the golf participants.

Learn more about Parkinson’s disease at BrainandLife.org, home of the American Academy of Neurology’s free patient and caregiver magazine focused on the intersection of neurologic disease and brain health. Follow Brain & Life® on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

When posting to social media channels about this research, we encourage you to use the American Academy of Neurology’s Annual Meeting hashtag #AANAM.

The American Academy of Neurology is the world’s largest association of neurologists and neuroscience professionals, with over 36,000 members. The AAN is dedicated to promoting the highest quality patient-centered neurologic care. A neurologist is a doctor with specialized training in diagnosing, treating, and managing disorders of the brain and nervous system such as Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, migraine, multiple sclerosis, concussion, Parkinson’s disease, and epilepsy.

For more information about the American Academy of Neurology, visit AAN.com.

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Howard Flanagan

Howard's love for the game started when he was 9, growing up in the Mid-Hudson Valley of New York State. Unfortunately for him he was left-handed and the only clubs in his parent's household were right-handed, so he had to learn the game from a different perspective. Throughout his golfing life Howard has been a member at several private clubs around the U.S. and in the Caribbean, but really enjoys the game when it is played on an unheralded muni course, just about anywhere.

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