While major media outlets around the world scramble to take advantage of pickleball's newsworthiness (some in shamelessly one-sided ways!), the Washington Post reports on a different angle.
Is pickleball a good source of exercise? Their article cites research with disparaging answers for those who swear by the sport's physical benefits.
WaPo says the peer-reviewed study measured "the physical activity intensity of singles and doubles pickleball" and found that middle-aged and older players would have to play 4.5 hours per week to meet recommended exercise minimums.
Only 4 and a half hours? That's a Saturday morning!
The article says, "...researchers...equipped 53 recreational pickleball players with smartwatches to track their heart rates and accelerometers...The ages of the participants ranged from 29 to 73, though most were middle-aged or older."
So the study was clearly meant to cover the average amateur player. Any pickleball fan knows that at higher levels of play, there is plenty of bodily exertion in both doubles and singles. More leaning, quick-stepping, diving, twisting, and slamming.
But apparently in lower-level play and among younger players, the sport may not provide enough of a physical challenge if only played for an hour.
And to that we say: blasphemy! Hey Washington Post, how much did Big Tennis pay you to write this piece?
Does Pickleball Meet Intensity Guidelines?
Physical activity guidelines suggest Americans put in 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity per week.
"Moderate" in this case means exerting oneself to the point of being able to speak but not sing; "vigorous" means jogging or cycling.
To figure out if pickleball qualifies as either, researchers monitored the heart rates and step counts of over fifty pickleball players for an hour, plus some warm ups.
"Players averaged 3,322 steps per hour, and about 80 percent of singles pickleball play was of moderate intensity. (The rest was light intensity.)"
The study predominantly revolves around step-count as the determining factor for level of exertion. But then they drop this little line: But players’ heart rate readings indicated both singles and doubles competition might be providing more of a workout than the step counts showed.
Oh, got it, ok. So heart rate, which every elite athlete in the world now bases their entire training regimen on because it's a far more accurate predictor of exertion than mere step-count, comes second to how many steps the participants took in this study?
Pickleball is a HIIT (high intensity interval training) workout. The abrupt starting and stopping causes heart rate to fluctuate and places significant amounts of metabolic stress on muscle tissue. Attempting to account for that by measuring steps simply doesn't paint the whole picture. But, we digress.
No matter the intensity and length of play and step count...We can all agree that the improvement to our mental health makes pickleball worth it in and of itself.