The powerful play of pickleball

You keep hearing that older adults need to stay active physically, mentally, and socially. But what if you could do all three at once? You can if you play the racquet sport pickleball, one of the country’s fastest-growing forms of recreation.

“In many ways, pickleball is the ideal activity for older adults,” says Timothy Rivotto, a physical therapist and tennis coach with Harvard-affiliated Spaulding Rehabilitation Network. “It can accommodate people with different fitness levels and still offer a good aerobic workout. Pickleball also requires using key brain skills and is an exciting way to interact with others.”

Pickleball basicsPickleball can be played either indoors or outdoors. The court is 20 feet by 44 feet — about the size of a doubles badminton court — and divided by a three-foot net, which is several inches shorter than a tennis court net and easier to hit over.The paddle’s size is between a table tennis paddle and a tennis racket. It’s made of lightweight composite material, such as aluminum or graphite, so you can hold and swing it with minimal effort.The plastic pickleball is punctured with several small holes. The design causes greater air resistance so the ball travels only about one-third as fast as a tennis ball.

The name of the game

Pickleball is a hybrid sport that blends tennis, table tennis, and badminton. There are different stories about the origin of its quirky name. One suggests a similarity to a pickle boat and another that it derived from a dog named “Pickles.”

Pickleball has exploded in popularity in the past decade. Participation grew almost 30% from 2015 to 2018, and today approximately 3.3 million people play it, 62% of whom are men, according to data from the Sports and Fitness Industry Association.

Pickleball serves up an array of health benefits. A study in the Spring 2018 issue of the International Journal of Research in Exercise Physiology found that older adults (average age 65) who played an hour of pickleball three times a week for six weeks lowered their cholesterol and blood pressure levels and improved their oxygen intake.

Pickleball also is a good way to do high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, which involves cycles of short bursts of high-level activity followed by brief periods of rest.

“Play in pickleball often lasts about 30 seconds to a minute, and then you can briefly rest while you get ready for the next serve,” says Rivotto. (Research suggests that HIIT workouts offer superior cardiovascular benefits than longer, less-intense cardio exercise, especially for older adults.)

The constant change of direction while playing — moving back and forth and side to side — helps with balance and weight shifting, skills that offer extra protection from falls.

“This type of action also improves coordination and reaction time, so you can better catch yourself if you do lose your balance,” says Rivotto.

Pickleball is an excellent brain workout, too. “It sharpens your quick decision-making skills, as you have to constantly think about and execute your next shot,” says Rivotto.

Know the rulesPickleball games are played like this:Serve: The ball is served underhanded, or it may be dropped and played off the bounce. The serve must land in the opposite diagonal court just beyond a seven-foot area past the net called the “no volley zone,” also known as the “kitchen.”Return of serve: The ball must bounce once before being returned. It then must bounce once again before being returned by the serving player or team.Play: Once the ball has been bounced and returned by each side one time, volleying continues with or without bounces. However, you are not allowed to hit the ball while standing in the kitchen, or enter the kitchen after striking a ball that has not first bounced.Points: You only score a point when you or your team serves. Points are awarded if the non-serving player or team hits the ball into the net, hits the ball out of bounds, allows the ball to bounce twice, or violates the kitchen rules.Win: Games are often played to 11 with a two-point spread needed to win. If the score is tied 10 to 10, play continues until one player or team is ahead by two points. The best two out of three games is the most common format.

Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren

 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” – Philippians 4:8

 “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” – Mark 11:24

 “Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.” – Proverbs 12:25

 “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?” – Luke 12:25

 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” – Matthew 7:11

 “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” – Proverbs 17:22

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