Now that their son is grown and their water-loving Labrador has passed away, Kristen Miller and her husband Scott Miller have decided to fill their pool in San Diego. “Nobody’s using it, there’s a drought and we’re in the 60s,” he said. “We thought we’d put in a pickleball court.”
According to a 2022 report by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, Ms. Miller is one of more than 4.8 million pickleball players or “pickles” in the United States. Pickleball, often described as a combination of tennis, ping pong and badminton, grew nearly 40 percent between 2019 and 2021.making it the fastest growing sport in America.
When she was just a tennis player in college, Ms. Miller learned pickleball after a friend of hers had to finish quad. He now plays twice a week and hopes to play even more once his backyard court is completed. “We know if we have people and we have paddles, anybody can go out there and hit the ball,” he said. “Not everyone is going to wear a swimsuit at 60.”
Sports have tended to become obsolete in the past: half of all serious pickleball players (those who play eight or more times a year) in 2021 were age 55 or olderaccording to the US Pickleball Association. But the vast majority of casual players are under 55, and the fastest growing segment of all pickleball players is under 24.
How can sports attract both pensioners and the youngest? And regardless of age, do you really sweat? That’s what the experts say.
Many racquet sports have a steep learning curve, even at the beginner level. “In tennis, balls are everywhere,” said Ernie Medina Jr., a Loma Linda University assistant professor of public health and pickleball coach who was introduced to the game in 2016 by his mother.
“In a pickle, you hit a plastic ball shaped like a globe so it bounces less and doesn’t fly through the air as fast. And the paddle is much easier to control because it is shorter and lighter. than a tennis racket. It’s also an underhand serve in pickleball, and back serves are easier to hit and return.
Besides being easier to learn than tennis, so is pickleball has a slower pace and less ground to cover; you can almost fit four pickleball courts on one tennis court, and most picklers play doubles. Some research shows that too may be safer than tennis for people with heart problems.
Players can have rotator cuff sprains and pain, among other injuries. To avoid injury, players should consider warming up before a game, maintaining a wide open stance during a game, avoiding stepping back to counter an overhead kick, and wearing shoes designed for lateral movement.
In terms of accessibility, pickleball can be played standing up or in a wheelchair, indoors or outdoors. You can even use sidewalk chalk or painter’s tape to make your own court in an alley or cul-de-sac—Dr. Medina once set up a court in the hallway of a conference venue. Then roll up a portable net. A USAPA-approved set of two paddles and four balls costs about $60.
Yes, pickleball has a low barrier to entry. But that doesn’t mean it’s a walk in the park.
In one of the few studies conducted on the pickle, researchers found that, Compared to walking at their own pace for half an hour, people who played double pickleball for half an hour had a 14% higher heart rate and burned 36% more calories. Another study from the University of Western Colorado found that pickles had an average heart rate of 109 beats per minute and burned 354 calories per hour, which qualifies as moderate-intensity exercise along with hiking, yoga and water aerobics . The players also saw significant improvements in cholesterol levels, blood pressure and maximal oxygen uptake, a measure of cardiovascular fitness, after playing for an hour every other day for six weeks.
“Because the paddle is so small, pickleball is great for hand-eye coordination as well as neuromuscular coordination,” said Heather Milton, a clinical exercise physiologist at the Sports Performance Center at NYU Langone Health. . “You’re moving in different planes, not just forward like you do when you walk or ride a bike, which is good for your agility. And because there’s rotation involved, you’re working your core along with your upper and lower limbs.”
You can also increase the intensity in different ways. “If you’re more competitive with a pickle, you absolutely could have more intense workouts,” Ms. Milton said. Practice can also increase burnout. “In a game you have to recover, stop and restart, so there are more places. When I exercise, I exercise more,” said Dr. Medina. “Breaking makes you better, so you can have longer and more intense rallies. It’s a double benefit.”
Finally, you can play singles instead of doubles. “S singles match, you will definitely cover more of the court, move more and burn more caloriessaid Lance Dallek, a professor of exercise science at the University of Western Colorado and an author of the Colorado study. “Kickleball isn’t just good exercise, it’s great exercise.”
Less than a quarter of American adults get enough physical activity, and that percentage declines with age. One of the main obstacles to exercise is the lack of social interaction, a great source of motivation.
But while 50 percent of people stop practicing six months after starting, research shows that picklers return to the court again and again, mainly because the game is so social. Pickleball can also improve your well-being: According to another study of pickleball adults 50 and older, those who take sports more seriously tend to be more satisfied with their lives. The same researchers found an inverse relationship between “serious leisure time,” in this case a competitive game of pickleball, and levels of depression.
Like Dr. Medina, I also have a mother (stepmother) who preaches the pickle gospel. Last spring, my husband took a pickle class while on vacation in Kauai, but I chose to stay by the pool. Last month, curiosity finally got the better of me and I asked a friend of a friend who is into this business if I could collect a quad.
It was 100 degrees when we met one August afternoon on an outdoor court in Portland, Oregon. The other three women were regulars, one of them a highly skilled doubles player who reached the nationals last year. I’ve always been a decent athlete and my dad was a squash pro so I grew up around racquet sports, but apart from the occasional game of cornhole, I’ve never played anything that required hand-eye coordination.
After about 10 minutes of warm-up exercises and explanations, I got the basics down. I missed a few serves and more than a few shots once we started playing seriously, but I was able to recover and even hit a volley almost immediately. Despite my inexperience and the sun-melting heat, I was soon in a state of excitement, full of laughter and conversation. Aha, I thought, somewhere near the end of the first game. “Now I understand why people are so obsessed with pickles.”
Being in the zone was nice, but so was the win: me and my partner won two out of three matches. but above all I was blown away by how much fun the game was. (Participants in the walking study found that a pickle was 150 percent more enjoyable than a walk.) Most points in pickleball are scored on a line just seven feet from the net, so it’s easy to chat between serves. And it’s hard to take yourself too seriously when the wildest shot is called a dunk you hit in an area called the kitchen.
“I’ve had a hoarse voice since I started playing pickle because I’m constantly screaming and laughing,” Dr. Medina said. “I can’t even sing in my choir anymore.”
Mrs. Miller said this the game is so much fun that you don’t realize you’re working out. “It’s something you can do in addition to going out to eat or go out for a drink.”
By Juno DeMello