What Is Pickleball and How Do I Play It?
Medically Reviewed by Dr. Nicole Avena

Now that the days are getting longer and temperatures are getting warmer, many are heading outside to ramp up their physical fitness.

Engaging in physical activities is important for everyone, especially those who live a sedentary lifestyle. Whether you enjoy hiking, biking, horseback riding, or just taking a walk, being outdoors has an overall positive effect on vitality.

One sport that’s become increasingly popular in recent years is pickleball.

What is Pickleball?

Pickleball is a racket/paddle sport that combines elements of several other sports including badminton, ping-pong, and tennis. It can be played indoors or outdoors with two to four players.

The sport requires the use of special solid paddles and plastic balls with holes. It’s a fun sport for people of all ages and skill levels. And, in addition to physical exertion, the game encourages friendly socialization.

Brief History of Pickleball

In 1965, Washington State congressman, Joel Pritchard, and his businessman friend, Bill Bell, were inspired to create a new sport when their families were sitting around with nothing to do.

Though Pritchard’s home on Bainbridge Island (near Seattle) had a badminton court, Pritchard couldn’t find enough badminton rackets to play a game. He improvised with ping-pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball. After lowering the net and implementing a few minor adjustments to the rules, pickleball was born.

In 1975, an article in Tennis magazine referred to pickleball as “America’s newest racquet sport.” The spring of 1976 saw the first pickleball tournament in Tukwila, WA. The United States Amateur Pickleball Association (U.S.A.P.A.) was organized in 1984.

The sport has evolved from an ad hoc game played with handmade equipment and improvised rules into a popular activity enjoyed throughout the U.S. and Canada. In recent years, pickleball has received international attention as well…Asian and European countries are now building pickleball courts.

Pickleball is one of the fastest-growing sports in America with 4.2 million players in 2020, up 21.3% from 2019.

Pickleball can help support your mental and physical health in numerous ways.

Here Are 5 of the Top Health Benefits of Playing Pickleball

  1. Helps Burn Calories

Though pickleball isn’t strictly an aerobic activity, the sport does offer moderate exercise that can help players burn calories. Even minor movements, like shuffling your feet or swatting the ball with a racket, can help burn some calories.

Since it isn’t overly strenuous, pickleball is an ideal sport for people of all ages, but particularly for older players who may have reduced mobility and stamina. The smaller court means there’s less running than with other racket sports like tennis. This is especially true when playing doubles, as there will be less court to cover for each player.

  1. Supports Heart Health

Many physical activities can have a positive effect on heart health. Playing pickleball may help reduce unhealthy cholesterol levels and lower the risk for cardiovascular issues.

A study in the International Journal of Research in Exercise Physiology found remarkable results with middle-aged and older adults who played one hour of pickleball three days a week for six weeks. At the end of the testing period, players exhibited improved blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Though conducted on a small sample of individuals, this promising research indicates pickleball’s potential to benefit circulatory and heart health.

  1. Improves Mood and Outlook

As with other forms of exercise, pickleball can serve as a natural mood boost. For starters, getting outside for some sunshine will naturally increase your stores of vitamin D3—a highly potent vitamin that can help improve mood. Physical activities like pickleball can help increase blood flow throughout your body, which helps bring nutrients and oxygen to your cells and organs, and then carries away the waste.

Energizing exercise helps release feel-good endorphins and neurotransmitters such as serotonin. Since positive mood is a strong predictor of physical health, consistent daily exercise is one of the best ways to improve your serotonin levels and overall brain health.

Another benefit of playing pickleball is that it encourages friendly competition and socialization which can help promote positive mood. Social connections can significantly affect your mental and physical health, so be sure to surround yourself with people who are happy, upbeat, kind, and who challenge you to be the best version of yourself.

  1. Increases Agility and Balance

Many will find pickleball to be a less punishing sport than tennis and other racket sports. This may be due to the fact that a pickleball court is smaller than a tennis court and that a pickleball moves slower than a tennis ball. These factors may allow for gentler movements, which should lead to greater agility and less strain on the joints, muscles, and ligaments than tennis.

Playing pickleball may help improve your balance, too. It also can help increase your stamina and may improve your footwork and hand-eye coordination. These are all crucial “use it or lose it” abilities that are important to keep sharp as you age.

  1. Promotes Long-term Independence

Regularly playing pickleball can help sharpen the reflexes, even in older adults. It also may increase your range of motion, which can help prevent muscle and joint stiffness.

Spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise, Chris Gagliardi, believes that the improved balance and reflexes one can gain from playing pickleball may help individuals live independently for longer. By contrast, a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to a loss of these skills and functions, which may lead to an inability to perform certain daily tasks and even cause serious illness.

Paddle Up

If you’re thinking about upping your fitness by playing pickleball, it’s a good idea to first clear it with your healthcare provider. Also, in preparation for playing this sport, be sure to research the rules, what equipment you’ll need to purchase, and where to find a court in your area.

As a general goal, aim for at least 30 minutes of some form of physical activity every day. It’s recommended to play pickleball no more than three times a week to allow your body enough time to rest between each session.

So, get some friends together and have fun playing pickleball!

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Keith Rowe