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The Growing Pickleball Craze and Its Health Benefits

Evidence-based Reviewed Article

An image of a woman playing a pickleballPickleball is a low-impact sport that was invented almost fifty years ago on Bainbridge Island, Washington. It has grown tremendously in popularity recently, taking off during the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s one of the fastest-growing sports in America. This activity is helping people to have fun while staying fit. It’s social, friendly, and competitive. Pickleball is a low-impact physical activity that can keep you fit while fostering social connections and mental well-being. It’s so popular because the sport provides an exciting alternative to lifting weights and going on long runs or the treadmill.

What Is It and Why Is It Called Pickleball?

According to Current Sports Medicine Reports, pickleball is a single or doubles volley sport played with paddles and balls on a hardcourt. Sometimes, it’s referred to as pickle racket. It’s a mix of different sports - a combination of tennis, badminton, and ping pong. It’s played with lightweight ping pong-like paddles and a wiffle ball, over a low net, on a short court the same size as a doubles badminton court at 20×44 feet.

Why the sport, that was invented in 1965, is called pickleball is still a point of debate. One story is that the name is derived from a dog named Pickles. It’s said that Pickles was the beloved pet of the family of former Washington State Congressman Joel Pritchard, the inventor of the game. However, Pritchard’s widow mentioned that the term pickleball was chosen because the mix of the different sports that comprise the game is a reminder of the pickleboat. Much in the same way, the oarsmen were selected from the leftovers of other boats.

What Does Pickle Mean in Pickleball?

The term “PICKLE” is frequently used in the game. As a single term “PICKLE”  is used in the game as the “Warning Shot”. The player serving during the game shouts the word “PICKLE” as an indication that the game is about to start or resume, and the service shot is about to happen. Think of it as a friendly exclamatory shout that is meant to grab the attention of the players on the field or court.

Furthermore, “PICKLE” also refers to the shout heard when a team or one of the players is about to lose the game to the opponent(s) at a score of 11-0.

Pickleball is most popular in the Sunshine State of Florida. Also, there are indoor and outdoor facilities. The city of Naples is particularly well-known as a hotspot to play, and it’s sometimes regarded as the capital of Pickleball. This city is also home to the US Open of Pickleball. Still, California has the highest number of places to play pickleball with just over 790, followed by Florida at 770.

The accessibility of pickleball may be behind the continued draw for new players. Some individuals play casually, while others take on a competitive spirit, participating in tournaments several times throughout the year. There’s also wheelchair pickleball for people with limited mobility.

An image of two teams playing pickleballAnother reason for its popularity is that it’s easy to play with simple rules. The game has some similarities to the games of ping pong and tennis. As such, the game is not intimidating for people who would like to try it.

The popularity of the sport also may be because of the fact that it’s inexpensive. It requires minimal equipment, with many affordable options on the market. Furthermore, there are numerous places to play. From YMCAs to community centers, it’s easy to find a venue to play at. Also, regardless of your skill level, less emphasis is placed on speed and athleticism.

Additionally, the proximity of players during a game allows for much social interaction. A partner might give you tips on how to improve the game, or players can simply chat about the weather. Also, this is especially great for older adult players as they transition into retirement. For them, they are engaging in exercise at the same time as social activity.

Health Benefits of Pickleball

There are several potential health benefits of playing pickleball that players can enjoy. These include:

Supports A Healthy Heart

This sport supports heart health by helping to reduce the risk of heart disease. It’s an aerobic exercise, which can enhance the health of your heart. Based on an article in Recreational Sports Journal, a study found that pickleball participants averaged over 86 minutes at increased heart rate zones and were significantly more active on days they played pickleball.

Enhanced Activity Levels, Especially for Older Adults

Staying active can improve mobility and physical functioning as you age. Pickleball is a multigenerational sport that’s ideal for people of all ages, including older adults. Research suggests that it supports hand-eye coordination and improves movement and muscle strength. Players are in control of how intensely the game is played and the smaller court (not like a tennis court) sees less running and more underhand, putting less strain on your shoulders. Older adults tend to like this about the paddle sport.

Boosts Mental Health

Opportunities for social interaction and connection are a big part of pickleball. As such, this sport helps to keep loneliness at bay, and in the process, reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as dementia and depression. This fun sport gives players the chance to mix and mingle with others, create relationships, and become part of a team, all while keeping them physically active. According to an article in Frontiers in Psychology, research suggests that people who play pickleball show significant improvements in personal well-being, life satisfaction, depression, stress, and happiness, boosting their mental health.

Pickleball for Stress

Stress is a common problem for many people in the modern world, and chronic stress can come with an array of health problems, some of which pickleball may help address. One common condition caused by stress is Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS).

Adrenal fatigue is the non-Addison’s form of adrenal dysfunction, a condition where the body’s stress response cannot keep up with life’s chronic stressors. It is caused when your adrenal glands cannot keep up with your body's demand for cortisol, the stress hormone. However, this hormone is related to many other hormones and organs through the NeuroEndoMetabolic Stress Response System, so problems in one area often affect other areas. This condition leads to a collection of symptoms that can impact your quality of life.

If your AFS is in the early stages, pickleball may be a helpful form of exercise for adrenal fatigue. Depending on your stage of AFS, this low-impact sport could strengthen your weakened adrenal glands, relieve stress, and improve your mood. Ideally, you should be recovering from AFS to take on pickleball as a form of exercise. However, if your AFS is severe, it's important not to overexert yourself, since an increase in cortisol during strenuous exercise can trigger an adrenal crash. See your doctor if you are concerned about the safety of an exercise like pickleball.

Pickleball for Seniors

An image of 2 seniors playing pickleballAnyone can play pickleball, but it attracts many older players. Many seniors across the country are participating in this sport. Also, it’s exploding at community and retirement centers across all fifty states. Moreover, seniors do not have to over-exert themselves or be gifted or skilled to play.

70 is not too old to play a paddle sport! It’s an adaptable sport that’s ideal for persons of all ages, including seniors.  Older adults benefit from pickleball, from being gentle on the joints. It helps them to stay active and social at the same time. Specifically, the sport provides low-impact exercise, boosts coordination and flexibility, and supports social connections.

How to Play Pickleball

You can play pickleball either indoors or outdoors as a singles game (one person on either side of the net) or a doubles game (two against two). However, doubles are usually more popular. The basics of playing pickleball involve:

  • The game of pickleball and each round starts with a diagonal, underhand serve from the player positioned on the right side of the court, facing their opponent(s).
  • On the first serve and the return serve, players should adhere to the two-bounce rule, where the ball bounces once on each side of the net. However, after that, the ball can be hit out of the air or after it bounces once (volleying).
  • Players continue volleying until a player faults by either double bounces, hitting the pickleball out of bounds, or into the no-volley zone.
  • Only the serving side can gain points, and the side to first reach 11 points wins the game but has to lead by two or more points. Additionally, in the instance that the server fails to score, the serve passes to the opponent(s).

The Takeaway

Pickleball is making waves and has notable health benefits, especially for older pickleball players. It’s a sport for all ages, and provides both physical, social, and mental health benefits. Are you wondering if you should join in on the action and become a pickleball player? If you have concerns about your health, talk to your doctor first.

If you struggle with AFS, the team at Dr. Lam Coaching can assist you. We’ll guide you on how to safely exercise and recover from your condition. We offer a free, no-obligation phone consultation at +1 (626) 571-1234 where we will privately discuss your symptoms and various options. You can also send us a question through our Ask The Doctor system by clicking here.

© Copyright 2024 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Casper, Jonathan M., et al. "Physical Activity Associated with Older Adult Pickleball Participation: A Pilot Study." Recreational Sports Journal, 2023,

Cerezuela, Leandro, et al. "Pickleball and Mental Health in Adults: A Systematic Review." Frontiers in Psychology, vol. 14, 2023,

Vitale, Kenneth, and Steven Liu. “Pickleball: Review and Clinical Recommendations for this Fast-growing Sport.” Current Sports Medicine Reports vol. 19,10 (2020): 406-413. doi:10.1249/JSR.0000000000000759

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Pickleball is a paddle sports that’s a combination of tennis, badminton, and ping pong.

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