2012 U.S. Open Golf: Health Benefits Are For Everyone

The 2012 U.S. Open will close on Sunday, June 17, and though the event celebrates the driving and putting achievements of professional athletes like Tiger Woods and Luke Donald, it's a good opportunity to revisit all the ways that this sport, often viewed as more of a leisure activity, actually improves fitness and health.

In one large 2008 study from Sweden's Karolinska Institute comparing health outcomes for 300,000 golfers to the rest of the population, researchers discovered that the golfers had a 40 percent lower death rate than non-golfers of the same gender, age and socioeconomic circumstance. What's more, they enjoyed an average five year increase in life expectancy.

The researchers credited several factors for golf's healthful effect. "A round of golf means being outside for four or five hours, walking at a fast pace for six to seven kilometres, something which is known to be good for the health," said lead study author Anders Ahlbom in a statement at the time of the study's release. "People play golf into old age, and there are also positive social and psychological aspects to the game that can be of help."

But just how strenuous is a round of golf? An experiment conducted by Neil Wolkodoff of Denver's Rose Center for Health and Sports Sciences and detailed in Colorado AvidGolfer magazine found that golfing a 18-hole course while carrying one's own bag burned a full 721 calories. Using a pull cart was similarly beneficial, burning 718 calories, though there was no shame in bringing a caddy along: walking alongside a caddy, unencumbered by the bag, still managed to burn 613 calories and riding in a cart burned 411 calories.

So next time you find yourself in close proximity to a course (this Father's Day perhaps?), it might be worthwhile to take a page from both the champs -- and the weekend warriors -- and hit the links.