Health Benefits of Playing Pickleball That May Surprise You

Pickleball is an entertaining sport for single players or teams, but it also has a positive impact on your health, some of which may surprise you. So whether you’re in the best shape of your life or on a journey to get back to peak fitness, you should know the health benefits of playing pickleball.

The health benefits of pickleball include:

  • Reduced muscle and joint strain
  • Better cardiovascular health
  • Improved cholesterol and blood pressure
  • More social inclusion

In this article, we’ll break down each health advantage of playing pickleball, discuss whether you can lose weight by playing regularly and go over which muscles are the most active during a pickleball game.

Let’s dive in!  

4 Health Benefits of Playing Pickleball

Sure, there are certainly plenty of benefits that come with playing pickleball, but there are 4 in particular that are backed by science. You may know one, all, or none of them, but we'd venture a guess that you've never seen the research to support it.

That ends now. After reading the following 4 health benefits of playing pickleball, you'll feel better than ever about picking up that paddle.

1. Reduced Joint and Muscle Strain - Low-Impact Exercise

Exercise in any form is better than none, but when it comes to safeguarding your joints and muscles, some exercises are more helpful than others.

Pickleball is very similar to tennis, which has been shown to make your muscles and joints healthier, regardless of age. No matter your age, it’s important to keep your body strong and resilient.

Any injury can keep you from your favorite activities for weeks or months. Acute injuries aren’t the only thing you should worry about, either. Prolonged joint problems cause chronic pain and stiffness, reducing your ability to exercise and detracting from your quality of life.

Muscle strains can be very painful as well, keeping you off the court for weeks or months at a time (if not longer).

Pickleball is considered a low-impact form of exercise, which means it’s far less difficult on your joints and muscles than high-impact sports like basketball and soccer. If you have a history of joint and/or muscle strain from playing high-impact sports, then you should try playing pickleball.

Chances are, you won’t have to worry about exacerbating your condition.

2. Better Cardiovascular Health - Same as Cycling or Jogging

You only have one heart and taking care of it can be the key to a long life.

That’s why it’s so encouraging that a 2018 publication of the International Journal of Research in Exercise Physiology (IJREP) found a positive correlation between heart health and playing pickleball in older adults.

The study lasted for six weeks and featured 15 participants total, a mix of men and women. They were about 65 years old on average but could have been up to eight years older.

First, the participants did a maximal graded exercise test, which is a test that slowly increases in difficulty until they ask to stop. Then they engaged in a doubles game of pickleball for an hour three times a week.

According to the study, the aerobic fitness of each participant increased, and their average heart rate was 108.8 beats per minute while playing, which is a healthy heart rate for their age.

The researchers concluded that middle-aged and older adults could use pickleball as an alternative to more traditional forms of cardio. It can improve cardiovascular conditioning and even prevent disease in the same way that things like jogging and cycling can.

Plus, it’s more entertaining than walking on a treadmill, but perhaps we're a little biased in that regard.

3. Improved Cholesterol and Blood Pressure - Pickleball Aids in Cardiovascular Health

Among the cardiovascular disease risk factors that the IJREP report mentioned are high cholesterol and high blood pressure. The researchers found that the participants in their pickleball study had improved high-density lipoprotein (HDL) and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.

This typically means that their HDL score went up and LDL went down. Their blood pressure also improved, which means that their systolic (the top number) decreased.

High-density lipoprotein cholesterol is considered good cholesterol due to its ability to reduce your stroke and heart disease risk. Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol is known as bad cholesterol because it can clog your arteries and lead to life-threatening problems such as a heart attack or stroke.

What about blood pressure? The American Heart Association reports that high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, increases your risk of kidney disease or kidney failure, heart attack, and heart failure.

Hypertension is linked to high cholesterol, so managing one usually helps with the other. Pickleball can help with both issues.

4. More Social Inclusion - Pickleball Boosts Mental Health Holistically

It’s not only one’s physical health that benefits from playing pickleball but mental health as well. Since mental health is such a broad category, this benefit merits breaking into subcategories.

Build Greater Social Connections

Pickleball is an incredibly social game whether you’re playing singles or doubles. In doubles, you interact with your teammate, but even in singles, you’ll have the chance to get to know your opponent.

There are also opportunities to talk about strategy before a game, go over what worked and what didn’t, and connect with like-minded picklers at both casual games and tournaments.

Social interaction is tied to feelings of security, belonging, and safety. You can also improve your mood and boost your brain health, reducing your risk of developing dementia.

Fostering a healthy sense of community in your life is incredibly important to your well-being. 

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, social connections can brighten our health in a whole host of ways, such as bolstering immunity and elevating empathy and self-esteem.

CMHA also found that social connections help us better regulate emotions and reduce our risk of depression and anxiety. 

As people get older, it becomes increasingly harder to make new social connections. Hobbies such as pickleball could be just what you need if you’re eager to broaden your social horizons.

If you get to a more competitive level of pickleball play, that opens even more doors for you still. You’ll meet players from your state and possibly all over the world at tournaments. Any of these are people you may become close to. 

Don’t underestimate the power of online connections either - communities like Pickleball Forum (Facebook) are a fantastic way to meet others with similar interests and strike up a friendship.

Find Fulfillment

Do you have a hobby? Some people assume that hobbies are only kid and teenager stuff and that they’re something that adults grow out of. 

Yet without play and hobbies in our lives, burnout is far likelier. The Ohio State University warns that workplace burnout can increase one’s risk of intrapersonal conflicts due to a reduced ability to regulate emotions. 

Burnout also lessens productivity, increases dissatisfaction with one’s work, hampers work performance, and leads to a reduction in both physical and mental health. 

Hobbies act as the counterplay to work, which can reduce stress. And pickleball is the perfect example of this.

For one, pickleball is easy to pick up and play. The game was created in the 1960s by two families looking to entertain their kids who didn’t have the right equipment to play other paddle sports. 

Most of all, pickleball is fun. It’s a sport that can be as serious or laidback as you like - it can be highly competitive and strategic, or more relaxed and social.

Pickleball also gives players a sense of accomplishment and pride when they master the basics and more advanced techniques. And with so many tournaments, there are real chances to measure your progress and compete against others. 

As a sport of strategy and finesse, pickleball can be a great way to apply the lessons learned in other areas of life - whether it’s work meetings or your relationships. That fosters self-confidence as you become familiar with the game, and the challenges it brings.

These feelings of accomplishment and pride can be translated into other aspects of life as well - which gives a much-needed boost in morale when life’s challenges come up. This is key to maintaining good mental health.

Better Mental Health

According to the Mental Health Foundation, physical and mental health are intrinsically linked. Poor mental health can cause physical symptoms like concentration difficulties, restlessness, insomnia, digestive issues, fatigue, and headaches.

But there is a study specific to pickleball that shows the direct impact of playing on your mental health. This study found that playing pickleball lifted the spirits of the participants. 153 pickleball players took part in the research, all of whom were older adults that played at a tournament level.

The researchers found that leisure activities, such as pickleball, were inversely related to depression. In other words, the more people played, the less likely they were to feel depressed. Even if your pickleball match is a serious competition, it’s more fun than many of the mundane activities of daily life.

Nonprofit resource PlanStreet notes that good mental health has a whole slew of benefits. For instance, you’ll have the wherewithal to better manage relationships and build your community ties. 

You’ll also be physically healthier. If you’re a fan of outdoor pickleball, this is better still for your mental health. Outdoors, our bodies can convert vitamin D from sunlight for a noticeable mood-boosting effect.

Medical resource Tri-City Medical Center states that you only need between five and 15 minutes outside several days a week for better mental health.

Even though you can get vitamin D from your diet or supplements, sunlight is recognized as the best source of vitamin D.

If you're in the pickleball community already, you know how welcoming other players are. If you're new to pickleball, you're in for a real treat, as it's one of the most social and community-driven sports you'll ever play.

Can I Lose Weight by Playing Pickleball?

Many of you have one health question in mind when it comes to pickleball, and that's about whether you can lose weight playing pickleball or not. So, is it achievable?

Pickleball can help you lose weight. Playing pickleball burns eight to 11 calories per minute, so 60 minutes of play can burn 480 to 660 calories. If you play two games at an hour each, you’d burn 960 to 1,320 calories, and at three games played for 60 minutes each, it’d be 1,440 to 1,980 calories.

Losing weight is about burning more calories than you consume. Even if you were on the standard 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, playing three games of pickleball for an hour each and burning 11 calories per minute would use up almost all of your day’s calories.

If you were on a reduced calorie diet of 1,300 to 1,500 calories, then playing two hour-long games, burning eight to 11 calories per minute, could help you lose weight.

Exercise is a major component of weight loss, but there’s more to losing weight than fitness alone. How you fuel your body can also help or hinder weight-loss efforts.

If weight loss is one of your fitness goals, and outside of getting exercise by way of pickleball, make sure you’re eating a nutritious, well-balanced diet full of proteins, healthy fats, and fibers. Include carbohydrates in your diet since they provide energy, but avoid sugars and preservatives.

What Muscles Does Pickleball Work?

Engaging your muscles is an excellent way to build strength and conditioning, tone and shape your body, and increase athletic power. You now know that pickleball is a low-impact workout that's great for your joints, has cardiovascular benefits, and can help you lose weight. But what about building muscle?

Pickleball is a full-body exercise that uses all of your muscles, which is yet another very convincing health reason to play.

Here's how playing pickleball commonly puts your muscles to work:

  • Core Muscles: You use your core muscles to rotate your trunk as you reach for and hit shots. If you strengthen your core and legs you’ll hit more powerful shots.
  • Upper Body: Your triceps, biceps, forearms, and shoulder muscles are constantly engaged as you hit the pickleball back and forth.
  • Lower Body: When you run around the court throughout the game, you’ll build up your quads and hamstrings too.

How Many Days a Week Should I Play Pickleball?

You can play pickleball as frequently or as seldom as your schedule and lifestyle allow. If you’re trying to incorporate more exercise into your life for better physical and mental health, then you should exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, but that doesn’t always have to include playing pickleball.

During your 30 minutes of prescribed exercise a day, you can and should engage in other physical fitness to train and strengthen your body and use your muscles in other unique ways. Conditioning yourself will make you a better pickleball player overall.

Beginners shouldn’t aim to play pickleball every single day. Start with a goal of playing once a week, then twice a week. 

On average, for the most health benefits, you should plan to play pickleball three days a week, says BrainMD. This schedule gives you time to rest and recover your body in between games.

Some people may wish to play pickleball more often, such as four or five times a week. Just make sure you take a rest day or several to reduce your risk of injuries. 

Is Pickleball or Tennis Better Exercise?

It's incredible how many tennis players have switched completely over to pickleball in the past few years. It's only natural for those who know and love both tennis and pickleball to wonder which is the better exercise.

In other words, which sport uses your muscles more effectively and burns more calories, tennis or pickleball?

Between tennis and pickleball, tennis is better for exercise due to the larger court. This means playing tennis requires more running, ultimately improving your cardiovascular health to a greater degree than pickleball.

A tennis court is 120 feet long by 60 feet wide whereas a pickleball court is 44 feet long by 20 feet wide, so you are missing out on some mileage.

This means you can fit 4 pickleball courts within one tennis court; so whether you're playing singles or doubles, you could think of it as needing to cover nearly 4 times the area when playing tennis compared to pickleball.

You'll still break a sweat, get your heart rate up, and burn calories while playing pickleball, so don’t fall into the trap of thinking pickleball is the cardio equivalent of Ping-Pong because that's not the case at all.

The best thing to remember is that any activity is better than none.

Get Active and Play Pickleball Today!

Pickleball is more than a fun sport to play with your friends. It’s great for your mental and physical health, reducing your risk for depression and cardiovascular disease.

You can enjoy the social aspect while improving your physical conditioning. It lowers cholesterol and blood pressure, plus there’s less impact on your joints and muscles than other, higher-impact sports.

So instead of asking whether pickleball can improve your health, the better question is how soon can you hit the courts?