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Pickleball, America's Fastest-Growing Sport, Is Good for the Mind and Body

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Doctors say regular exercise is a key to overall good health. However, if you're someone who thinks working out is boring and lonely, you might want to consider pickleball. It's now the fastest-growing sport in America, especially among older people who are looking for exercise they are able to do, that's good for not only the body, but also the mind. 

"Pickleball is very addictive," David Mills told CBN News, "It's like a wonderful drug to me. I love it. I love it. I can't get enough of it."

Players are thrilled to discover something so healthy is also really fun.

"I meet lots of new people all the time," pickleball enthusiast Linda Newsome told CBN News. "I have found that it has helped me lose weight after knee replacement, from gaining a little bit of weight, and just really keeping in shape physically, keeping my strength up, keeping my core strong.  So I've really gotten a lot of benefit out of it." 

Although pickleball looks like tennis, it's easier on the body. For example, there's less wear and tear on the joints. 

"The size of the court is one-third the size of a tennis court," Jim Aldrich, who runs Pickleball Virginia Beach, told CBN News. "So we don't have to move as much side-to-side and back-and-forth. So that makes it easier on your overall body."

Pickleball is a slower game and much easier to grasp compared to tennis. Lessons are not needed.  

"Pickleball is one of those sports where actually four people can walk on a pickleball court and start hitting it back and forth to each other," Aldrich said. 

Like all sports, injuries are possible. Strains or tears in the feet, back, and shoulder are the most common, especially among older folks. Experts recommend people talk to their doctor before starting a new activity and warming up before hitting the court. 

Pickleball was invented in 1960s Seattle when two men wanted to play badminton but only had the net. So they improvised using equipment from other sports – a wiffle ball and ping-pong paddles. The name pickleball comes from the "pickle boat" in the rowing sport called crew, which instead of utilizing a designated team, uses various oarsmen from other boats. 

Pickleball surged in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, as people searched for ways to exercise outside, while keeping their distance. 

Health experts like  Ashley Gorman, Ph.D., Board Certified Clinical Neuropsychologist with Atlas Neuropsychology, say pickleball offers many of the same brain benefits as ping-pong, a sport doctors recommend to help reduce cognitive decline, largely due to the constant hand-eye coordination. 

"And you're adding that cardio factor so that you're pumping the blood to your brain, which we know is very good for cognition," Dr. Gorman told CBN News.

Pickleball can also improve reflexes.

"It forces you to react quickly, to make decisions quickly, and it puts you in a new situation every time the ball is served," said Dr. Gorman.

Many players say the social element is what keeps them coming back for more. 

"People are just having a good time and enjoying themselves, and that's the part that I like," Mills said. "You can laugh and joke and clown around with people and nobody takes it too seriously."

This element is also good for the brain. 

"Being around other people, and meeting new people, and being social, has been shown to be a really important lifestyle factor in preventing dementia," Dr. Gorman said. 

Exercise can help us sleep better, and vitamin D from sun exposure can improve our mood. 

So while trying a new sport can be intimidating, especially if you've been on the bench for a while, pickleball can be easy, fun, and very healthy.

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