Letter to the Editor | Health benefits of pickleball are legion

I’m a 75 year old emergency medicine physician who began playing pickleball approximately four years ago. I know of no other sport where someone, regardless of their fitness level, athleticism, or experience with racquet sports, can learn the principles of the game and actually be playing and enjoying themselves within approximately 15 minutes.

Particularly for seniors, the health benefits of pickleball are legion. When I first began to play I was quite fit and was surprised to find that I stumbled and nearly fell several times during play. I realized this was due to a decline in an important physiologic function known as proprioception, which has to do with awareness of the location, movement, and action of the body in space.  It degrades with age, making older people more prone to fall. I am certain that pickleball is a bulwark in the fight against fall-related disabilities.  

Additional well-documented benefits include improved blood flow to the brain with improvement in cognitive flexibility and processing speed, increased gray matter volume, protecting the hippocampus (involved in memory formation), production of mood boosting neurochemicals, reduction of cognitive impairment, and social bonding that keeps the brain younger. Another important benefit is stemming the progression of osteoporosis, which requires weight bearing physical activity.

At this stage in my life, it is inevitable that I begin to consider my future after retirement. It is well documented that amongst seniors, social engagement is crucial to not only length of life, but also quality of life. Like many others, my principal concern about retirement has been disengagement from the social aspects and camaraderie of the workplace. The social aspects of pickleball serve splendidly as a more than adequate replacement for the interactions that are mandatory for maintenance of long-term good health.  I have met people I would never have come into contact with who are now like my new “family”.  They are supportive, encouraging, and genuinely care about my welfare.  I feel the same towards them.  We have formed a “pickleball community” that gets us out of our homes to enjoy each others’ company and friendly competition. Pickleball people walk robustly and confidently, laugh heartily, exude healthfulness, and look and act remarkably youthful.

Importantly, this is a game enjoyed by all ages.  Commonly, someone in their 70’s competes successfully against a 20-something opponent.  Pickleball is by far the fastest growing sport in the country, and will require forward thinking and planning to keep up with the ever-increasing demand and need for playing venues.  A single full size tennis court accommodates 2 to 4 players; the same space can (in some configurations) accommodate 16 pickleball players on four courts.  Pickleball remains the best use of available court space, especially so in built out Piedmont.

I urge the Recreation Commission to approve a robust pickleball trial at Linda Beach.  The eventual conversion to dedicated pickleball is the best use of this space and in the best interest of the community.

4 thoughts on “Letter to the Editor | Health benefits of pickleball are legion

  1. But no intramural play at Hampton and Linda? Wouldn’t taking out one court at each faculty free up space for 2 or 4 PB courts? The goal of the trial appears to be to determine demand for pickleball but by concentrating the courts at Linda much of that use will be by nonresidents. A better trial would be to convert two tennis courts around town to full time pickleball and see how that meets the demand.

  2. Neal, I agree – dedicated courts for pickleball are needed in Piedmont. But why the Linda courts and not the Guilford courts? Those courts are in the center of town and would seem better situated for community use.

    • Thanks for your comment Neil. The tennis players from lower Piedmont are not arguing against pickleball. We just don’t want to lose the only tennis courts in lower Piedmont, especially not without a good discussion and public input. We would also love to understand how this decision happened and how the trial will be deemed a success or failure which is not obvious yet.

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