Take a healthy swing

Golf: This game can be played by folks well up in years - as long as they adjust to suit their changing bodies.

Senior Life


Sixty-year-old Jack Nicklaus is back on the pro golf tour this season, months after his hip replacement. Gary McCord, a 25-year PGA veteran and golfing instructor, still plays on the Senior PGA tour and has no plans to stop any time soon.

Retired golf great Arnold Palmer, 69, plays nine every day.

Like millions of other senior hackers, these golf legends have discovered that golf is a sport that can be played throughout the golden years -- if you avoid injury and stay in shape. The American Physical Therapy Association says that older golfers can forget that, while enthusiasm remains high, their bodies have aged.

"People lose flexibility, muscle mass and strength as they age, and that's where problems start," says Bill Hardy, a physical therapist in Middletown, Conn. "Since the golf swing involves an extreme amount of bending and twisting of the spine, as well as rotation of the hips and shoulders, senior golfers are at a greater risk of injury."

New designs in golf equipment can help compensate for stiffness, lack of flexibility and other physical limitations older players may have. Shafts made of graphite and other materials help increase swing speed and power without any change in strength. Clubs with oversized heads offer a larger, more effective hitting area. Oversize grips and lower flexpoints provide shock-absorbing flexibility.

But while improved technology can lesson physical stress, proper body mechanics on the golf course play an even larger role in preventing injuries.

Bending the knees before swinging, rotating the hip and spine during the golf swing and using correct range-of-motion techniques throughout the swing all reduce strain on the body. Proper mechanics off the course, such as correctly lifting golf bags and equipment and physical conditioning, are just as important.

Hardy says many weekend or seasonal senior golfers put themselves at risk by trying to swing as hard as professional athletes, often after hibernating all winter or sitting behind a desk or lounging in front of a TV all week.

"They'll go through the whole winter without taking a swing, and when the nice weather comes they'll go out and play 18 two days in a row. Then on the weekends, they drive to the course, jump out of the car and start banging balls without warming up," says Hardy. "It's no surprise we see so many muscular-skeletal injuries among this group."

Typical golf injuries include muscle strains and neck, spine and joint irritations. Industry statistics show that the typical golfer loses an average of 5.2 weeks of playing time annually because of injury.

In the Northeast, says Hardy, golfers tend to cram a lot of physical activity into a short season. To keep your body in peak shape for the season, he recommends year-round conditioning. Low-impact aerobic activities such as walking, biking or swimming all help keep muscles and the cardiovascular system in good working condition.

Hardy also advises golfers to regularly swing a club indoors throughout the winter to stay limber and prevent stiffening. After the season starts, make a habit of stretching before you hit the links as well.

Maintaining endurance is also important, because fatigue can lead to poor form and result in injury. To keep endurance up and muscles conditioned, walk the course whenever you can and exercise regularly between rounds.

"People go out to the golf course, get an injury and think they're too old and can't play golf anymore," says Hardy. "The good news is that the effects of aging on your golf game can be addressed and even slowed if you just keep yourself in shape and practice good body mechanics."

For a free set of injury-prevention tips for senior golfers, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to "For the Young at Heart," APTA, Box 37257, Washington, D.C. 20013.

Pub Date: 06/06/99

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