Fitness

Staying healthy may help golf performance

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Simple adjustments can help both amateur and professional golfers improve their performance, sports medicine specialists say.

A team of professional physical therapists who trained golfers for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and the 2016 Ryder Cup in Chaska, Minnesota, offer eight tips to ramp up performance quickly and safely. Featured in graphic form in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the colorful, user-friendly tips can also be found on the European Tour Performance Institute's Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds.

"With golf making its first appearance in the Olympics this year and the Ryder Cup happening right now, we're experiencing a growing interest in golf of all abilities," Nigel Tilley, lead author and consultant physiotherapist for the European PGA Tour, told Reuters Health in a recent interview. (The Ryder Cup concluded on October 2).

At an amateur level, 55 million people play golf in more than 100 countries. In the U.S. and the UK, golf is among the top five most popular sports, he said.

"Maximizing golf performance is important for professionals and amateurs," Tilley said by email. "The difference between winning a major championship and not can be one shot."

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Most golf advice focuses on the swing and physical requirements, he said, yet golf is both a physically and mentally demanding sport. Preparation should reflect that holistic approach.

Golf has been linked with better health, "with people who play golf regularly being shown to live up to five years longer than non-golfers," Tilley said. "Golf offers a diversity of social interaction opportunities and can be played together by people of all ages, levels and sexes."

The graphic depicts a structured plan for physical training, golf practice and diet that can be maintained by logging details daily. Players can stay on track by planning ahead to ensure balanced meals and plenty of sleep, the authors write.

In addition, a varied diet should include proteins, fruit, vegetables and complex carbohydrates, with snacks built on nuts, berries and fruit rather than salt, sugar or processed foods.

"Try to time meals as soon as possible following training sessions, which promotes adaptations to the training," said Brian Roy, kinesiology professor at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, who wasn't involved with the study. "Plus, it reduces the need for snacking and can help avoid excessive caloric intake."

Golfers should also hydrate for optimal mental and physical performance, the graphic authors write. This includes limiting alcohol and caffeine, adjusting water intake for climate conditions and drinking milk for recovery.

"Milk is a good recovery beverage because it is rich in electrolytes and protein that help facilitate rehydration and replenish carbohydrate stores in the body," Roy said by email.

Throughout the year, strength conditioning can boost performance and reduce injuries, according to the graphic. In addition, warm-up aerobic exercise raises the heart rate and blood flow before each practice. Elastic resistance bands are a great way to practice golf-specific movements, the authors write.

"The graphic has minimal mention of stretching, which is one of the most important factors for golfers," said Matthew Milewski, an elite sports medicine expert at Connecticut Children's Medical Center in Farmington, who wasn't involved with the study.

"Golfers are susceptible to low back injuries and upper extremity overuse injuries," Milewski added by email. "A good stretching protocol before and after play is crucial."

Golfers can also improve sleep quality by avoiding the glowing blue light of screens before bed and sleeping in a dark room with no distractions. The authors recommend eight hours of sleep per night and no caffeine before bed.

During travel to tournaments, golfers can reduce the effects of jet lag by avoiding alcohol, staying hydrated, adjusting to the new time zone before leaving and wearing compression socks during flights.

"This infographic could really be applied to almost any sport," Roy said. "It follows a number of key principles that are critical to optimize performance in most circumstances."