In the U.S. alone, there are now almost 5 million pickleball players, many of whom are over the age of 50. The number of “picklers” regularly picking up a paddle and ball has grown by at least 40 percent between in the past three years. This explains why the New York Times refers to pickleball as “America’s fastest-growing sport.”
It might surprise you to know that pickleball has been played for over six decades. But only recently Major League Pickleball was born. Professional pickleball is expanding quickly, even attracting entrepreneurs, well-known athletes, and big investors including Gary Vaynerchuk (who bought a professional pickleball team), LeBron James and Tom Brady.
Why is pickleball so popular? According to USA Pickleball, “The rules are simple and the game is easy for beginners to learn, but can develop into a quick, fast-paced, competitive game for experienced players.”
Sure it’s fun to play, but does pickleball count as exercise? While only limited studies have investigated the health implications of playing pickleball, there’s evidence that it can provide similar benefits as yoga, walking, and other types of moderate exercise.
What Is Pickleball?
Pickleball is a game played with paddles, a plastic ball and a net. It combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong because it’s played on a court and involves hitting a ball back and forth over a net.
Most often, pickleball is played outside on a pickleball court, which looks like a small tennis court, but it can also be played indoors. Like tennis, it’s possible to play pickleball one-on-one (or as a single) or two-on-two (as a team of doubles, which is most popular).
Although pickleball has only recently become a craze in places including the U.S., Europe, Asia, and Canada, it’s actually been played since the 1960s. Pickleball, which originated on Bainbridge Island, located near Seattle, Washington, was created by a group of dads who supposedly began playing the game with their kids when they became bored over the summer.
When it comes to potentially providing health benefits, what is pickleball good for?
Considering pickleball is somewhat of a physically demanding sport, plus it’s fun and social, it provides both physical and mental health perks. Here are some reasons to consider becoming a pickler, if you haven’t already:
1. Good for Beginners and People of All Ages
Pickleball has been described as a more accessible and fun type of tennis. While tennis can be challenging to learn, difficult to play and poses a higher injury risk, pickleball has an easy entry and is enjoyed by teens, young and middle-aged adults, and even the elderly.
What age group plays pickleball the most? Retirement homes are among the most popular places to play this sport. What is the average age of a pickleball player? The average pickler is in his or her late 30’s. Half of all serious pickleball players in the U.S. in 2021 were 55 and older.
Because pickleball is played with a light, plastic wiffle-like ball and small paddles, it’s suitable for those who might otherwise struggle to play tennis. It also tends to be easier on joints such as the shoulders and knees, since it doesn’t require as much running, bouncing or overhand serving.
While older adults tend to love pickleball for its social element and exercise benefits, it’s also growing fast among people under 24 years old, including college students and teens.
2. Serves as Moderate-Intensity Exercise
You’ll likely have such a good time playing pickleball that you’ll barely realize you’re exercising. However, this sport can provide similar cardiovascular benefits as walking.
One study found that adults tended to work harder and burn more calories when playing pickleball compared to when walking steadily. Picklers experienced 14 percent higher heart rates on average, and burned 36 percent more calories, compared to walkers.
How hard of a workout is pickleball exactly? It ultimately depends on how much you push yourself, plus whether you play alone or with a partner. Singles is more difficult because it requires more running around the court. Doing pickeball drills to improve your skills can also be a tough workout.
A 2018 study found that pickleball players had an average heart rate of 109 beats per minute and burned 354 calories per hour. This is similar to walking at a moderate pace or doing a difficult yoga class. Additionally, the study showed that playing pickleball led to improved cholesterol levels, blood pressure and maximal oxygen uptake, all of which indicate metabolic and cardiovascular health benefits.
3. Relatively Low Impact
Is pickleball good for seniors? Yes! Is 75 too old to play pickleball? It’s hard to say, since everyone’s body is different, but the sport is certainly loved by many people in their 60s and 70s.
While some types of aerobic exercise involve repetitive movements and moving only on one plane, pickleball uses many parts of your body and involves moving on different planes. This helps to engage different muscle groups, yet the game is still low-impact and unlikely to lead to injuries.
What skills are involved in pickleball? To become good at the game, you need to master different types of strokes, serves (which are underhand), and be able to get to the ball fast, control the speed of the ball, and aim well to place the ball where you want.
Based on what we know about the benefits of similar sports, such as badminton and tennis, pickleball may be able to improve your agility and coordination, plus it requires you to lift your arms and rotate your torso, which is beneficial for upper body and core strength, as well as balance.
4. Keeps You Mentally Sharp
Here’s something promising for adult picklers: Research suggests that games like pickleball can boost neuromuscular coordination and lead to enhanced hand-eye coordination, which aging often takes a toll on.
Pickleball can also improve your mental well-being and mood, as demonstrated by one study that found picklers benefitted from enhanced protection against depression. Findings from the study suggest that leisure activities, especially when they are done with serious effort and involve social interaction, can improve one’s mental health.
How to Play
Pickleball is played on a court roughly the same size as a badminton court (20×44 feet) and smaller than a tennis court. Pickleball nets are shorter than tennis court nets (about 36 inches high), making it simpler for people of all ages to play.
Like a tennis court, a pickleball court is split into four main sections. Opposing players stand on opposite sides of the court and hit the ball back and forth over the net to one another.
Here’s a run down of basic pickleball rules:
- Points are scored only by the serving team. Games are normally played to 11 points, and a team/player must win by 2.
- Players serve from the back left or right sections of the court to the other side. At least one foot must be behind the baseline when serving.
- Unlike in tennis, pickleball serves are performed underhand. The serve must be made from waist-level or under. Only one serve attempt is allowed per server.
- There is a 7-foot zone in front of the net on both sides, called the “kitchen,” which is off-limits for standing in and volleying from.
- Players serve and score points until they commit a fault.
- When points are scored, the server switches sides to make the next serve.The server continues switching back and forth until a fault is committed.
- When the first server loses the serve the partner then serves from their correct side of the court. The second server continues serving until his team commits a fault.
- The ball can only bounce once before being hit. After the ball has bounced once in each team’s court, both teams can volley the ball or let it bounce once.
Where to Play
Pickleball courts are popping up all over, especially at public parks, country clubs, and private tennis or beach clubs. In fact, there are now more than 38,000 indoor and outdoor courts in the U.S. and 10,000 registered pickleball facilities, according to USA Pickleball.
To find a local court to play at, check out the Pickleball+ app, or put your ZIP code into the USA Pickleball Association’s court locator website.
What equipment do you need to play? And what are some tips to prevent injuries?
Fortunately, it’s easy to get started with pickleball because the games requires just two players and a few basic pieces of equipment (which should cost under $60), including:
- Two paddles, or four if you’re playing doubles
- A plastic ball
- A court with a net
Even if you don’t have access to a court nearby, you can even use sidewalk chalk or painter’s tape to make your own, such as on the street. You’ll have to measure the ground and place tape on the floor in order to make a homemade court. Then use a portable net that can be rolled and collapsed.
Pickleball involves running around the court a bit, so wear sneakers and comfortable clothing, such as shorts, a t-shirt, socks, and tennis shoes (if you have them) or shoes that allow you to move laterally.
How many times a week should you play pickleball? It’s really up to you; like with other sports, playing just once per week or several times per week is enough to provide some health benefits, social interaction and fun.
What should you not do in pickleball? If you’re new to the sport, don’t overexert yourself or do too much, too soon, which might lead to injuries. Pickleball may not be the best option for people who have suffered injuries from other racquet sports, including tennis, such as tennis elbow.
To prevent yourself from becoming injured, do a quick warm-up of dynamic stretches before playing — that loosen up your legs, shoulders and torso.
Try doing wide leg and arm circles, forward folds, some lunges, etc. When hitting the ball, keep your leg in a wide stance which will help you balance. If you experience pain in your shoulders, wrist or back, take a break and consider seeing a doctor if your symptoms persist.
Tennis and pickleball might have a lot in common, but there’s actually a bit of rivalry between players of these two sports. There’s only so much space within towns that can be dedicated to public courts — and recently, pickleball has been pushing out tennis.
Even though pickleball has been gaining a strong following, there are nearly four times as many tennis players in the U.S. (about 21 million) than picklers. Tennis enthusiasts argue that tennis courts shouldn’t be split up or overtaken to make more space for the “fad” that’s pickleball, while picklers feel that tennis is a “elitist” sport that’s mostly played by wealthier people.
Of course, some people enjoy both games, so ideally towns and clubs will be able to accommodate both. Each sport also has its advantages: tennis is a more intense workout, while pickleball is accessible to just about everyone of all ages and income levels.