If your best driving performance is in the golf cart, you may be playing the game wrong: Two researchers say you could do your circulatory system more good if you make the trip on foot.
Walking a course regularly helps lower cholesterol levels, and therefore may decrease the risk of heart disease, the experts concluded."We need to reassess the value of this sport," said a report in The Physician and Sportsmedicine, a medical journal.
Researchers Edward A. Palank and Ernest H. Hargreaves Jr. of the New Hampshire Heart Institute in Manchester looked at 28 average but enthusiastic male golfers ages 48 to 80. They had not exercised the previous four months.
In the study, the golfers walked about 14 miles a week by playing an 18-hole course an average of three times a week from mid-May to mid-September of 1989 - with a pullcart or carrying a light bag.
The golfers lowered their total cholesterol by an average of 17 milligrams per deciliter of blood, the study said. The low-density lipoprotein fraction of their cholesterol, the so-called "bad" cholesterol associated with higher risk of heart disease, fell by an average of 13.2 milligrams.
Both are "very significant" decreases, the report said.
However, the level of high-density lipoprotein - so-called "good cholesterol," associated with a lower risk of heart disease, did not change significantly, the report said.
That's because a golfer's stops to hit the ball get in the way of his workout, said Palank, a cardiologist. It takes a sustained aerobic workout to improve HDL, he said in an interview.
Just the same, the study shows "you can improve your (heart disease) risk ratio," he said. "The thing that's discouraging is that they've taken a very enjoyable sport that was designed to walk, and taken out some of the enjoyment and taken away some of the positive medical benefit."
Palank blamed economics, saying courses make more money by shuttling more golfers through on carts.
Thirty-three percent of members-only courses, 29 percent of daily fee courses and 11 percent of public courses require carts some or all of the time, according to the National Golf Foundation in Florida. The majority of courses require no carts and may not even have them, said Andrew M. Snook, a research associate with the non-profit organization.
In a separate survey, done in 1988, golfers said they used a cart about a third of the time, Snook said.
However, walking may strengthen a golfers' game by reducing the effects of fatigue, said Rob Mottram, a physical therapist with Centinela Hospital, Inglewood, Calif. Mottram staffs a fitness center, including weight machines, treadmills and ultrasound therapeutic equipment, which travels with professional golf tours.