7 Surprising Ways Pickleball Benefits Your Brain

Pickleball

Pickleball—a mix of tennis, paddleball, and table tennis—has been called the fastest-growing sport in America with 4.2 million players in 2020, up 21.3% from 2019. If you’re one of the people caught up in the pickleball craze or if you’ve been thinking about trying the sport, you may appreciate its physical benefits. But did you know this popular sport also provides a host of brain benefits? Here are 7 ways pickleball boosts your mental, emotional, and cognitive health.

 

 

If you’re one of the people caught up in the pickleball craze, you may appreciate its physical benefits. But did you know this popular sport also provides a host of brain benefits? Click To Tweet

7 MENTAL HEALTH AND BRAIN BENEFITS OF PICKLEBALL

1. Improves blood flow to the brain.

Running around on a pickleball court gets your heart pumping, which boosts blood flow to the brain. This increases the supply of oxygen, glucose, and nutrients to the organ between your ears, enhancing overall brain health. In particular, heart-pounding exercise boosts blood flow to the prefrontal cortex (PFC), an area of the brain involved with attention, planning, and impulse control. A healthier PFC means better focus, decision-making, and follow-through. Typically, these traits add up to a happier, more fulfilling life.

2. Enhances cerebellum function.

The footwork and hand-eye coordination required to play pickleball activate the cerebellum, an area at the back bottom of the brain involved in cognitive flexibility and processing speed. Heightened activity of the cerebellum boosts these mental functions.

3. Increases gray matter.

Research from Brazil shows that physical activity that requires planning—such as deciding whether to smash the ball or dink it softly over the net—and complex movements result in higher gray matter volume. More gray matter volume is associated with increased ability to evaluate rewards and consequences, according to findings in a 2012 study in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.

4. Strengthens the hippocampus.

Getting your body moving protects the hippocampus, structures located within the temporal lobes that are involved in the formation of memories. A 2011 study in PNAS found that aerobic exercise like pickleball increases the size of the hippocampus and improves memory. Pickleball also gives your memory a workout by making players remember the score and whose serve it is. Sounds simple, but scoring in this sport isn’t as easy as it seems, and it can be a real head-scratcher for beginners. You can only score points while serving, and the server must call out 3 numbers: their own team’s score then the other team’s score, followed by a 1 or a 2 to indicate if they are the first or second server on their team. Learning to keep score challenges your memory.

5. Produces mood-boosting neurochemicals.

Playing heart-pumping sports like pickleball allows more of the natural mood-enhancing amino acid L-tryptophan to enter the brain. L-tryptophan is the precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin that helps balance moods. Decades of research show that physical activities such as pickleball also help alleviate depression and anxiety. A study in The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine states that “exercise compares favorably to antidepressant medications as a first-line treatment for mild to moderate depression.” The researchers also say that physical activity is an effective treatment alternative for anxiety disorders.

6. Reduces cognitive impairment.

Physical exercise of any kind, such as pickleball, helps protect against cognitive decline and dementia, according to decades of research. A 2017 review suggested that potential mechanisms of this brain benefit may include the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (a sort of Miracle-Gro for the brain), along with improvements in insulin sensitivity, cardiovascular health, inflammation, and stress response.

7. Keeps the brain younger.

The social bonding that comes with playing a group activity like pickleball helps combat loneliness and boosts mood. That’s not all. Animal research from The Ohio State University in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience shows that social connections preserve the mind. In this study involving older mice—the equivalent of post-retirement age in humans—animals that lived in groups not only had better memories than mice living in pairs, but they also had younger-looking brains.

If you’re thinking about picking up a pickleball paddle to enhance your physical, mental, emotional, and brain health, check with your healthcare provider before starting any exercise program.

Memory issues, mood problems, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

28 Comments »

  1. You caught my attention when you said that loneliness can be countered by playing pickleball. I need a physical activity in my life, because I starting to gain weight since the holidays. I want to be healthy, because I’m not getting any younger. Thank you for this, I’ll make sure to look for the best pickleball paddles in the nearest store.

    Comment by Luke Smith — February 23, 2022 @ 6:24 AM

  2. We are regular pickleball players and recognise all the benefits listed above but most of all it’s great Fun!! I recommend everyone looks out for their local picklegroup where I am sure they will be warmly welcomed!

    Comment by Rosie daCosta — February 25, 2022 @ 3:09 AM

  3. What if you you have physical problems, such as bad knee replacement, back problems and are close to 75 years old?

    Comment by Rhonwen Baranek-Donaghy — February 25, 2022 @ 4:15 AM

  4. I’m so glad our friends introduced this fun game to us.. I had to laugh at #4 because it’s SO TRUE that keeping score (out loud to each other) keeps the brain sharp! Love it! Thank you for this quick read. I’m going to share it with my subscribers next week!!

    Comment by Jean Oswald RN CPC — February 25, 2022 @ 4:28 AM

  5. I really enjoy reading your pickle ball and other messages in early morning. It is all motivational and encouraging to start the days and learn how to face everyday’s unexpected surprises. Thank you very much.

    Comment by Fatemah Sedighi — February 25, 2022 @ 4:41 AM

  6. What about tennis?
    I’ve tried switching to Pickelball, it’s not my thing. The sound alone is load , the ball has holes so it barley bounces. Give me a tennis racquet over Pickleball any day!

    Comment by Linn Beswick — February 25, 2022 @ 5:17 AM

  7. I’m a tennis coach/player mainly but also play beach tennis using a two handle racquet and paddle. The pickle ball association has not legalized our 2 handle pickle paddles. Does Dr. Amen believe ambi dexterity is healthy for your brain!?
    I am told there are many benefits to using both sides of your body and brain!?

    Comment by Trent Asron — February 25, 2022 @ 6:15 AM

  8. I get the same rush when I go dancing for an hour or two. You should post those benefits, too! Love it!

    Comment by Holly Matisis — February 25, 2022 @ 6:58 AM

  9. Luke, check out Pickleball Channel to learn the sport and watch the videos offered online. Florida has lots of courts and Texas is building lots too.

    Comment by Jim — February 25, 2022 @ 7:10 AM

  10. I’ve played pickleball for over 10 years. At 70 I can tell you it’s the most fun you will have and it never gets old. It’s such a social game and many seniors play. Find a place that works for you, you love it. But be ware it’s addicting!

    Comment by Candy Alexander — February 25, 2022 @ 8:00 AM

  11. Pickleball is tremendously fun and fast moving. It’s easy to pick up if you’ve ever played a little pickling, badminton, tennis, or squash. You’ll be playing at an intermediate level enjoyably,very quickly. In addition to the benefits listed above, I find it to be excellent for attention and focus , with my inattentive ADD.

    Comment by Nancy Ross — February 25, 2022 @ 8:38 AM

  12. You forgot to mention that Pickleball is addictive for all of the above reasons. My husband and I want to play it all the time. Other life requirements keep getting in the way of our addiction. LOL

    Comment by Sandra Burnell — February 25, 2022 @ 12:31 PM

  13. Love it and I have been playing for 5 yrs now. I am in my 70’s and going strong!

    Comment by Thelma Lyden — February 25, 2022 @ 12:33 PM

  14. I didn’t even know what Pickleball was until I began playing after hearing so much enthusiastic talk about it. I was 77 at the time, and will be 80 in May. I play between golf seasons only because I golf every day in season. I play pickleball three day a week.

    Comment by John R MacDonald — February 25, 2022 @ 4:40 PM

  15. I”m 86 and a former tennis player. Pickleball is a Godsend! Stared 2 years ago because loved the idea of underhand serving because of rotator cuff pain and knee problems and the court size is much smaller than tennis and easy to get around! I now play 2-3 hours mixed doubles 3 times a week and can still make it back to my car…Most of all it is a very social sport and have made many friends over the time I have been playing! “What the world needs now, is more indoor courts.”

    Comment by Bernie Gardner — February 25, 2022 @ 10:00 PM

  16. What better way to meet the locals when you are traveling? Go to Places to Play on USAPickleball.org and you will find pickleball everywhere these days with warm friendly people who welcome those “here to stay” and those just “passing through.”

    Comment by Linda Sprouse-Scott — February 26, 2022 @ 5:34 AM

  17. I have been playing pickleball for 3 years. Took a little break during Covid. I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease 8 years ago. This game has changed my life. I play with all ability levels at least 5 days a week.

    Comment by Wendy Long — February 26, 2022 @ 8:07 AM

  18. It also helps in driving being able to drive safely being able to see everything at once alert mind

    Comment by Cal Doty — February 26, 2022 @ 8:42 AM

  19. As for physical activity, I feel as though I have a new lease on life since I started playing pickleball, a year & a half ago. I love the games in so many ways. Not only the physical aspects, but the issues related to weight control, plus the social pluses the games yields. Our city council is expanding the venues to include some indoor courts.

    Comment by Dwight D Milleman — February 27, 2022 @ 4:06 AM

  20. I have found you can play Pickleball with Parkinson’s Disease. Exercise is well known to be beneficial in preventing further progression. Balance is my biggest concern, but with proper treatment I can still play at a relatively high level. PD has affected my ability to keep score and serves which is frustrating.

    Comment by Bill — February 27, 2022 @ 3:23 PM

  21. Pickleball is a great sport whether you are playing it on the court or sitting on the side line watching the points. Very addictive. Fun for all ages. Love it!

    Comment by Rose C. — February 28, 2022 @ 12:21 PM

  22. Bernie’s comment hit home when he said “he is able to make it back to his car” when he is done playing. I am 72 and the next day(s) is when I suffer from 3-hour, 3-4 times a week PB sessions. BUT IT IS WORTH IT! It’s just pain. Or you could stay home and watch cowboy movies till your funeral.

    Comment by John Brown — February 28, 2022 @ 1:11 PM

  23. I absolutely Love Pickle Ball! I am 68 years old and started in June 2021. It helps my brain to remember the score, gives me physical exercise and I have now met others all over the USA who play. More and More young people are also beginning to play!
    Don’t be afraid to start. I have found many pickle ball players to be helpful and provide me with tips when I play. We all had to start somewhere! If you need extra help, there are coaches available.

    Comment by Cherie — February 28, 2022 @ 5:15 PM

  24. For those who would rather play tennis, check out spectennis.com It is played on a pickleball court with a paddle and an orange dot tennis ball. (low compression) I also play tennis but enjoy playing spectennis as well. Tennis rules and scoring and the ball bounces. Easier on the back and knees than pickleball. Lots of fun!

    Comment by Rod House — March 2, 2022 @ 9:52 AM

  25. One more benefit – I regularly cycle for 2-3 hours at a time. While cycling is good exercise, it doesn’t require my full attentiveness – meaning there’s plenty of time for me to think about other things like issues or problems I’m facing. So I get a good workout but my troubles are still on my mind while cycling. Sports like tennis and pickleball, require my full attention. I can’t be thinking of anything else while playing. So my brain gets a complete break from all the troubles in the world. It’s a different kind of release and relief that is oh so refreshing!

    Comment by Dave Harbert — March 28, 2022 @ 10:55 AM

  26. I don’t feel like being that active yet. I had a bad flu at Christmas and I got anxious because I could.not get out of the house yet. My son bought a Mucinex product from Walgreens that helped me with the terrible cough. I could eat ok but moving was the hardest to do. I could not vsvu recycle or put trash out or check mail. My house is on a hill. I get scared that so will lose my balance going down the hill. So I stay in the house on the front porch or work on my garden planting new pots.
    My doctor said tell me if you work up a sweat. I said 1 hour and yes I do. He says gardening is the best exercise for an older person. I am 71. I walk around the yard 3x a week. A 40 yr old will not be able to keep up with me. I do bed exercises on my legs first for circulation. Pretend I’m riding s bike holding my head up with my arms. I do stretches in yoga warrior poses. When I turn tv on I do step aerobics 4 poses working arms and legs. Lifting arms and 1 leg up thigh high. Put on some music. In my chair I do feet exercises. Some isometric for chest and breathing and Tai chi and meditation to relax. I feel most healthy when I get my exercise every day. We have a pickleball court but too many bad kids there. I don’t feel safe to go to my city hall library or park anymore.
    Staying at home is where I feel more safe now. I’m content to do my writing and Art and crafts. I was an Art teacher, computer operator in government offices IRS, VA and DOT and some sales when I could no longer find office work when I turned 55. America should pay attention to to their older citizens now. We were the backbone of this country. The young people find it so easy to forget us now that we are retired. I taught Sunday school and Girl Scouts many years. I just want my kids to visit me now. Friends live too far away and my family is gone now. Everyone important to me died. I get up every day thanking zhod sim still alive. I pray every day for America and Ukraine. My mother was Ukrainian but too afraid to tell us during cold war. I learned of my heritage in 1995. 45 yrs old. They are determined people who endured many difficult times in history. They love gardening cooking travel history literature and physical exercise. I miss my Mom most. She helps me every day in my recipes loved cooking for her family. My hardest thing is standing. I have sciatica trouble walking sometimes. My foot spasms from car accident and I fell off motorcycle in the street. My tibia bone was hurt.
    Then I have to go to podiatrist for treatment.
    Thank you for your ideas. Your tv shows help me.

    Comment by Donna Hopcraft — March 30, 2022 @ 2:18 PM

  27. Pickleball is a fun and healthy activity that I recommend to any player who wants to improve their fitness.

    Comment by moretha — March 31, 2022 @ 1:18 AM

  28. @Linn Beswick – I too was/am a tennis player, but have been playing PB for about 8 months. Like others have mentioned, rotator cuff issues were causing me problems with my (used to be good) tennis serve. But the biggest disadvantage of tennis is how hard the fundamental strokes of the game are. A good topspin backhand takes years to master. Playing with my kids involved me chasing all over the court retrieving their mishits. In contrast, most folks with a modicum of hand-eye coordination can manage pickleball at some level after a few weeks of practice. And it’s such a social game, with playing communities springing up everywhere. I play 3x per week and could do it every day if I had the time.

    Comment by Andy Harris — March 31, 2022 @ 7:52 AM

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