Golf is (officially) good for your health

If you needed another excuse to tee off, new research shows playIng a round of golf can lower your stress levels and decrease the IncIdence of depressIon.

We all know the benefits of sports and exercise go well beyond the physical to include clarity of mind and a greater sense of happiness and wellbeing. Indeed, sporty people commonly report a below-average rate of anxiety, stress and depression. And according to the latest findings from Roy Morgan Research, Australians who play golf are among the least susceptible to these mental health conditions. On closer inspection, it seems that playing golf has a number of striking therapeutic benefits.

Just over 1.7 million Australian adults (or 9.3%) play golf either regularly or occasionally, putting it among our 10 most popular forms of exercise. Compared with the average Aussie aged 18+, or even people taking part in most other sports, these golfers are less likely to experience depression, stress or anxiety.

According to Roy Morgan Research, between July 2015 and June 2016, 25.8% of Australian adults reported experiencing stress at some point in the preceding 12 months; 18.3% reported having anxiety; 15.1% had depression; and 5.4% suffered at least one panic attack. Among people who play golf, these figures fell to 22.5% for stress, 11.9% for anxiety, 8.7% for depression and 3.0% for panic attacks.

While golf is very much a male-dominated sport (more than eight in every 10 Aussies who play golf are men), its mental health benefits can be seen amongst both men and women who take part.

The most striking difference between men who play golf and the average Australian man is in anxiety (9.8% vs 14.0%) and depression (8.3% vs 13.3%) rates, but prevalence of stress and panic attacks is also lower among male golfers.

Among women, the main disparity is in incidence of depression: while 16.9% of Aussie women aged 18+ experience depression, this falls to 10.5% among those who play golf. Anxiety and panic attacks are also less likely among female golfers (puzzlingly, stress appears to be more common).
Furthermore, Roy Morgan Research data also reveals that even watching golf on TV appears to have a positive effect on the viewer’s mental health, with golf viewers reporting below-average incidences of anxiety, depression, panic attacks and stress.

“It’s a wonder doctors and psychologists don’t prescribe golf as a treatment for people with depression, anxiety, stress and panic attacks,” says Norman Morris, Industry Communications Director of Roy Morgan Research.

Not only are participants surrounded by nature as they play (which alone has been found to relax people and reduce stress/anxiety) but also they have social interaction with other players (also known to benefit mental health), and have to engage their concentration skills. In fact, the only sport with participants less susceptible to all four mental health conditions is sailing.

Roy Morgan data shows that men who play golf are not only 30% less likely to experience anxiety and 38% less likely to suffer depression, but also are markedly less susceptible to stress and panic attacks.

Among women, the differences are not quite as pronounced, but are still worthy of mention, particularly when it comes to depression rates. As the table above shows, and as Roy Morgan has reported previously, women are more likely than men to experience these conditions in general, so any reduction is a positive development.

Who needs anti-depressants when there’s golf? AMP


The effect of playing golf on anxiety, depression, stress and panic attacks

Total Men Women
Average Golfers Average Golfers Average Golfers
% who experienced anxiety in last 12 months 18.3%

11.9%

14.0%

9.8%

22.4%

21.4%

% who experienced depression in last 12 months

15.1%

8.7%

13.3%

8.3%

16.9%

10.5%

% who experienced stress in last 12 months

25.8%

22.5%

21.0%

19.0%

30.4%

38.1%

% who experienced panic attack in last 12 months

5.4%

3.0%

3.5%

2.5%

7.3%

5.2%

Source: Roy Morgan Single Source (Australia), July 2015-June 2016, n=14,300. Base: Australians 18+