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is pickleball good exercise

Is Pickleball Good Exercise for Weight Loss?


If you’re new to pickleball or have played as a beginner a couple of times, you might be wondering: is pickleball good exercise? 

Pickleball courts and balls are smaller and slower than tennis. And while the court sizes of pickleball and badminton are alike, badminton matches last longer than pickleball and involve quite a lot more jumping. So, does pickleball burn calories, and if it does—can you play pickleball for weight loss?

Let’s find out.


Is Pickleball Good Exercise?

Pickleball is a great form of exercise, especially for elderly and middle-aged players. After all, the sport became popular because of how awesome and accessible it is for seniors and physically unfit people. In fact, pickleball was invented to be a fun, family-centered game for the families of Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum.

pickleball for good exercise

According to a study on the physical activity intensity of pickleball, middle-aged or older people need to play as much as 4.5 hours a week to meet recommended exercise guidelines. Another study claims that pickleball players average around 3,322 steps per hour for singles play, and 2,790 steps per hour for doubles players. This is fewer steps than you’d typically get by simply walking for an hour, which is around 6,000 to 7,500 steps.

However, the most important measurement for determining an exercise’s effectiveness is by tracking heart rate. And pickleball does a great job at that. The same study shows that pickleball is played at around 70-75 percent of the maximum heart rate, which is considered a moderate exercise. Around 40 percent of players stay in this heart rate range. The other 60 percent of the time, players are either in light or intense heart rate ranges.

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EDITOR’S NOTE:  The elderly, physically unfit, or pickleball hobbyists who just want some validation for their sweat should focus more on how pickleball makes exercise accessible in the first place. Sports are ultimately much healthier and better for your physical health and function than just going to the gym and working out. We’ll dive deeper into why that is when we talk about pickleball’s health benefits below.


How Effective Is Pickleball as A Good Exercise?

Now that you have a general idea of how good pickleball is as an exercise, let’s go over some very important topics you need to know when discussing exercise.

Exercise is a relative term because some people are more fit than others. An 80-year-old woman will have a hard time doing brisk walks, while a marathoner won’t even break a sweat. To put it simply, exercises are either one of these things:

  • Any activity that increases your heart rate to 70-90 percent of its maximum capacity over a considerable length of time
  • Any activity that requires significant energy from calories to perform, not necessarily needing an increase in heart rate
  • A purposeful movement that requires effort and challenges the body to do, over a considerable length of time

So, the effectiveness of pickleball as a good exercise largely relies on how much effort you’re putting into the sport. This same truth applies to all other sports and exercises, like tennis, gymming, or jogging.

Simply put: if you’re playing pickleball and not even sweating, then pickleball isn’t an effective exercise for you. However, if you’re sweating like crazy and feeling your heart rate increase whenever you play, then pickleball is a great exercise.

Is Pickleball Effective for Gaining Muscle?

On a similar note, how effective is pickleball for gaining muscle? The simple and short answer to this is that any muscle growth from pickleball will most likely be focused on your legs and partially on your shoulders and chest. You won’t be able to expect any kind of significant muscle growth on your biceps, triceps, or even abs.

This is because pickleball is closer to cardio than it is to hypertrophy training (lifting weights and getting bigger muscles).

That being said, even if you do push your boundaries and end up sore after multiple games, you might not gain all your potential muscle if you don’t eat the right food. Nutrition is more important for muscle growth than just regular exercise. If you don’t eat enough protein to help build those muscles, most of your gains will be for nothing.

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NOTE: Again, sports are a different form of exercise than gymming and working out. It’s ultimately healthier and more functional, so keep reading because we’ll be going over why that is true later on.


Does Pickleball Burn Calories?

Yes, pickleball does burn calories. But, how many calories pickleball burns will largely depend on:

pickleball and exercise

  • Your heart rate or activity level
  • The length of time you play pickleball and the length of time your heart rate is high
  • Your weight (the heavier you are, the more calories you burn because you need more energy to move than a lighter person)

The average number of calories you can expect to burn after 1 hour of playing pickleball is around 550 to 750 calories. This is for individuals who are between 160 to 200 pounds. The number will be slightly lower and different for females. 

Do note that this is just an estimate, and you’ll likely burn more calories if your heart rate is higher and you are visibly sweating more than normal.


How Can You Make Pickleball a Better Exercise?

Pickleball is considered a moderate exercise sport. How do you make it a better exercise so you can burn more calories and lose more weight?

Here are some tips you can use to make pickleball a harder exercise:

Playing Pickleball Singles Is Harder

Pickleball singles players cover more steps than doubles players and have less time to rest or stay still because no one else can receive the ball. 

Doubles play is generally recommended for beginners, especially for the elderly or middle-aged player base. But, if you feel like you aren’t being physically challenged enough nor sweat at all while playing doubles, try your hand at singles play.

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PRO TIP:  If you don’t like singles, then you can always play longer games of doubles. An extra game or two should do the trick. Alternatively, you can also play the same amount of games, but jump in place or keep your legs active even when the ball isn’t going your way.


Pickleball Health Benefits

Even as a moderate exercise, pickleball still has a lot of health benefits that seniors and middle-aged players have long benefitted from. For some players, especially older people who are in their 70s, pickleball has basically given them a second chance at running around and being active despite their old age.

Brighter Mental Health

First, let’s talk about sunlight. Playing pickleball outside is a great way to soak up those sun rays. The sun’s rays trigger the body’s production of vitamin D, which has been linked to improved mood and reduced symptoms of depression. Exposure to natural light also helps regulate your sleep-wake cycle, ensuring you have a healthy and consistent sleep pattern, which is vital for maintaining good mental health.

Then there’s the exercise factor. Engaging in physical exercise, like in pickleball, leads to the release of endorphins—the body’s natural mood elevators. These chemicals help combat feelings of stress and anxiety and promote a sense of well-being. Exercise also increases the brain’s sensitivity to serotonin and norepinephrine, which relieve feelings of depression. 

More than just physical exercise, pickleball provides cognitive challenges as well. As a strategic game, it encourages players to think, plan, and concentrate, thereby stimulating various areas of the brain that maintain cognitive health.

Opportunities for Socialization

Pickleball fosters social interaction. The sport is innately social as you get to play in a community full of friends, family, and like-minded individuals who also enjoy pickleball. 

This social interaction plays a crucial role in improving mental health by reducing feelings of isolation and loneliness. You get a sense of belonging and create opportunities for making new connections.

Healthier Cardiorespiratory Fitness

Cardiorespiratory fitness refers to the ability of your circulatory and respiratory systems to supply oxygen-rich blood to the muscles during sustained physical activity. Playing pickleball as a regular exercise helps improve this fitness by strengthening the heart muscles, enabling it to pump more blood and deliver more oxygen to the body. This is beneficial for overall heart health and reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Playing pickleball involves bursts of exertion and rest, similar to interval training, which is excellent for improving cardiorespiratory endurance. This type of movement can help lower resting heart rate and blood pressure. 

Additionally, consistent movement helps to increase lung capacity, allowing for more efficient oxygen use and better breathing over time. It’s not just about being healthier, it’s about increasing the quality of life. A stronger cardiorespiratory system means more stamina, ensuring you can enjoy life’s activities longer.

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NOTE: A good cardiorespiratory system has indirect benefits to mental health as well. When your body effectively transports and utilizes oxygen, your brain also receives a sufficient oxygen supply. With more oxygen and improved blood flow to the brain, cognitive functions like memory and problem-solving skills are enhanced.


Improved Muscular and Cardio Functionality

Pickleball as a sport brings about an interesting combination of endurance, strength, and agility that’s rare to find in traditional gym workouts. The continuous movement across the court mimics everyday actions, like running, bending, reaching, and twisting, thus translating to improved functional fitness.

Think of bodybuilders who focus their workouts on isolated muscle groups. While they might excel in lifting heavy weights in a controlled environment, their muscles won’t function as well in a dynamic, unpredictable setting like a basketball game. So, the gym may help you develop muscle… but pickleball teaches your body how to use your muscles in practical ways.

The mixed aerobic and anaerobic nature of pickleball helps enhance cardiovascular health while building muscle. This coordination of different body parts to work seamlessly together is a form of a compound exercise, which yields more efficient results compared to isolated workouts. The result is a healthier, more balanced body that performs better not just on the pickleball court, but in daily life.

Better Flexibility and Range of Motion

Pickleball’s swift lateral movements, bending, and stretching exercises enhance flexibility and range of motion to promote better bone and joint health. The weight-bearing nature of the sport helps increase bone density, which can stave off osteoporosis. Continuous movement also keeps the joints fluid and can potentially reduce the symptoms of arthritis by keeping the joints flexible. 

Enhanced flexibility and range of motion are not only beneficial to performance in pickleball and other physical activities, but they also play a significant role in reducing the risk of injury. A flexible body is more likely to move more efficiently and safely in daily activities, thereby reducing the risk of muscle strain or joint pain.


Is Pickleball Good for Seniors?

Pickleball is not only good for seniors—it’s a fantastic sport for seniors. Let’s break down why.

senior in pickleball

  1. Pickleball Is a Low-Impact Sport.

It is much easier on the joints compared to high-impact sports like running or basketball. There’s less jumping involved, and more controlled, smooth movements. This makes it an excellent choice for seniors who might have joint issues or those who are worried about injuries.

  1. Pickleball Can Be Played at Various Levels of Intensity.

This makes pickleball accessible for all fitness levels. Seniors can start slow and gradually build up their stamina and skill over time. 

  1. Pickleball Has Simple Rules.

Because of pickleballs straightforward rules, new players—especially the elderly—won’t have a hard time jumping in and getting started. They’ll be able to get a hang of the rules after just a game or two.

  1. Pickleball Is a Great Way for Seniors to Stay Socially Active. 

Pickleball is often played in doubles, meaning you’ll be part of a team. Having a teammate offers plenty of opportunities for social interaction and camaraderie, which a lot of seniors need in order to feel connected and engaged with their community.

  1. Pickleball Offers Significant Physical Benefits for Seniors.

As a sport, pickleball can greatly improve balance and coordination, which are important to maintain mobility and independence as one age. The game also promotes better cardiovascular health, thanks to its aerobic nature, and can help strengthen muscles and improve flexibility.

  1. Pickleball Is Also Great for Mental Health. 

Pickleball is a strategy-based game more than a strength game. Its strategic aspect keeps the mind sharp, offering a fun way to boost cognitive function.

In short, pickleball offers a wealth of benefits for seniors—from physical fitness and mental sharpness to social connection. It’s a fun, accessible, and versatile game that can adapt to a wide range of skill and fitness levels. Seniors looking for a fun way to stay active and healthy will love it.


Weight Loss and Exercise: The Scientific Truth

Let’s be clear when it comes to weight loss

Losing any kind of weight is a simple mathematical and scientific process of spending more calories than you take in. Everyone burns a set number of calories every day, which is calculated by their height, weight, and general activity level. This is called the BMR or basic metabolic rate. This is the amount of calories your body needs and uses just to stay alive—breathing, thinking, and doing everything else. 

Pickleball is an exercise that burns more calories than normal because your body needs to burn calories in order to move and perform. So, pickleball can help with weight loss and burn more calories throughout the day, week, and month. BUT, it is not a guarantee for weight loss, especially if you eat more than usual because of pickleball.

Eating good food is one of life’s greatest pleasures. But if you don’t eat right, you’ll end up taking in a whole lot of calories you don’t really need. Processed food and sugars from fast food, junk, or other kinds of unhealthy sources are especially bad for you if your goal is to lose weight. 

For reference, a Big Mac from Mcdonald’s is 563 calories—without drinks and sides. This is equivalent to about 1 hour of playing pickleball. If you treat yourself to a Big Mac, coke, and some fries after playing pickleball for an hour, you’ll be ingesting more calories than you used. You won’t lose weight this way.


What to Expect from Pickleball Weight Loss?

Pickleball is a tool for weight loss, but losing weight is ultimately a matter of spending more calories than you consume. What we recommend for pickleball players who want to lose weight is to use pickleball as an alternative to snacking in the afternoon. 

If it’s 3 to 4 pm and you feel like ordering some snacks, like fries or a burger, get your mind off your cravings by playing pickleball instead and having some fun. Snacking is your enemy if your goal is weight loss. Just remember to not binge eat an even bigger dinner than you normally eat when you get back home or finish playing. 

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PRO TIP: A good mindset for exercising as a form of weight loss is to not treat exercise as a “free food” pass. Just because you exercised today doesn’t mean you can get an extra side of fries or a Coke. Eat the way you’ve always eaten and keep your exercises a separate thing in your brain. Don’t make it a reason to eat more. If you follow this tip religiously, you should be able to lose weight over time.