Opinion Research Therapies — 17 November 2016

The benefits of sports participation are widely acknowledged to go beyond the physical, with sporty people commonly reporting a below-average rate of anxiety, stress and depression. And according to the latest findings from Roy Morgan Research, Australians who play golf are among the least susceptible to these mental health conditions. In recognition of this week’s upcoming Emirates Australian Open Golf championship, we shine a spotlight on golf’s striking therapeutic benefits…

golf-ball-and-flag_1160-444Just over 1.7 million Australian adults (or 9.3%) play golf either regularly or occasionally, putting it among our 10 most popular forms of exercise. Compared with the average Aussie aged 18+, or even people taking part in most other sports, these golfers are less likely to experience depression, stress, anxiety or even panic attacks.

Between July 2015 and June 2016, 25.8% of Australian adults reported experiencing stress at some point in the preceding 12 months; 18.3% reported having anxiety; 15.1% had depression; and 5.4% suffered at least one panic attack. Among people who play golf, these figures fell to 22.5% for stress, 11.9% for anxiety, 8.7% for depression and 3.0% for panic attacks.

While golf is very much a male-dominated sport (more than eight in every 10 Aussies who play golf are men), its mental-health benefits can be seen among both men and women who take part.

The most striking difference between men who play golf and the average Australian man is in anxiety (9.8% vs 14.0%) and depression (8.3% vs 13.3%) rates, but prevalence of stress and panic attacks is also lower among male golfers.

Among women, the main disparity is in incidence of depression: while 16.9% of Aussie women aged 18+ experience depression, this falls to 10.5% among those who play golf. Anxiety and panic attacks are also less likely among female golfers (puzzlingly, stress is more common).

Furthermore, Roy Morgan Research data also reveals that even watching golf on TV appears to have a positive effect on the viewer’s mental health, with golf viewers reporting below-average incidences of anxiety, depression, panic attacks and stress! Sounds like a good reason to tune in to this week’s Australian Open…

Norman Morris, Industry Communications Director, Roy Morgan Research, says:

“It’s a wonder doctors and psychologists don’t prescribe golf as a treatment for people with depression, anxiety, stress and panic attacks. Not only are participants surrounded by nature as they play (which has been found to relax people and reduce stress/anxiety), but they have social interaction with other players (also known to benefit mental health), and have to engage their concentration skills. In fact, the only sport with participants less susceptible to all four mental-health conditions is sailing.

“Roy Morgan data shows that men who play golf are not only 30% less likely to experience anxiety and 38% less likely to suffer depression, but also markedly less susceptible to stress and panic attacks.

“Among women, the differences are not quite as pronounced, but are still worthy of mention, particularly when it comes to depression rates. As the table above shows, and as Roy Morgan has reported previously, women are more likely than men to experience these conditions in general, so any reduction is a positive development.

“Golf is well known for its popularity among older Australians, and it should be noted that Australians aged over 50 are consistently less likely than younger Aussies to be stressed, depressed or anxious. However, Roy Morgan data shows that golf’s mental health benefits apply to participants of all ages. For example, 30.9% of 18-24 year-olds overall report having felt stressed in the last 12 months—compared with only 17.3% of those who play golf.

“The reduced prevalence of anxiety, stress, depression and panic attacks among people who watch golf on TV is intriguing: perhaps the game’s slow pace and its scenic setting have some kind of relaxing effect?

“Roy Morgan’s deep health data is an invaluable resource for sporting and health professionals, providing insights not only into Australians’ sports participation and viewing habits, but also enabling investigation into the correlation between different sports and their participants’ mental and physical health.”

This piece was first published on ‘Roy Morgan Research’ on November 16, 2016.

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