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Golf with a healthy heart

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Golf with a healthy heart – Live Great – Great Eastern Life

Want a tip on how to improve your game? Dr Eric Hong, full time interventional and nuclear cardiologist (with a special interest in sports cardiology) at Mount Elizabeth Hospital shares with us his experience - both on the green and in the clinic.

A fitter golfer is a better golfer
Being physically fit allows a golfer to walk and play the whole 18 holes without being fatigued. Thus, endurance plays a key role in finishing a good round of golf with mental clarity and solid golf shots. Dr Hong, a golf enthusiast himself, further explains that there are two types of endurance which are critical for golfers' performance on the green.

Cardiovascular endurance is often overlooked. But consider this: In an 18-hole game you would walk a course of approximately six to seven kilometres, uphill and downhill, in 90% humidity carrying a 20kg bag. This pushes your heart rate to about 60% of its maximum function, and it will stay at that level for a game that lasts four hours or more.

It is not uncommon for a golfer to arrive at a shot feeling out of breath and a fast beating heart. This makes it even more challenging to make an accurate approach or sink the putt.

It is important to attain optimal fitness in order to play a good game of golf. This is contrary to the belief that playing golf alone will bring you good cardiovascular health. This is an especially dangerous myth, especially for individuals who are obese or have underlying health conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, ischaemic heart disease or kidney impairment.

To improve your game significantly, cardiovascular exercise outside of the green is crucial. Aim to do some physical activity at moderate intensity for at least 30 minutes, five times a week. If you find it too taxing, you can break it down to multiple, shorter sessions throughout the day. Soon enough, you will see a boost in stamina and a visible difference in your game.

Muscular endurance is equally important. Having strong muscles improves balance, core stability and strengthens your posture for that shot. Dr Hong recommends climbing stairs as a great way to improve muscular stamina. Aim for quick steps, two or three steps at a time to make your calves and quadriceps work harder. Even when going downstairs, take quick steps. Doing this will help work and strengthen your opposing muscle group which is made up of gluteal, quadriceps, and hamstring muscles. If you want a strong, consistent and stable swing, you have to work for it.

Play golf with your heart
Other than improving your game, there is a good reason why you should aim to be fitter and healthier: Your heart. We often hear of sudden cardiac arrests incidents out on the green. Sometimes, it happens to people who are seemingly fit.

Early detection of coronary heart disease can prevent a fatal or crippling stroke. Coronary heart disease is caused by the build-up of fatty materials and plaque within the blood vessels. When the blood vessels are narrowed or blocked, blood flow to the heart can stop.

So how do we screen for cardiovascular fitness and risks? A basic check would be to go for heart tracing, undergo an exercise treadmill and an echocardiogram. These tests have around 70~85% diagnostic accuracy.

Dr Hong recommends going for Cardiac Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scan. This technology is one of the most reliable yet non-invasive functional cardiac imaging technologies available with 95% accuracy. This scan is particularly good for golfers who are elderly, obese, or have chronic illnesses such as ischaemic heart disease, diabetes mellitus and renal impairment.

A PET scan of the heart provides a non-invasive and comprehensive assessment of the blood flow to the heart muscle and coronary flow reserve. It shows how good the blood circulation is to each coronary vessel, rather than just quantifying the degree of blockage.

Have a good game
In conclusion, take care of your heart before you even go on the green. Go for regular screenings, and don't let the game be your only exercise. We should all take some time schedule exercise into our daily routine so as to play a better game - and a safer one.

Publication of article by courtesy of Dr Eric Hon at Mount Elizabeth Hospital 

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