5 Health Benefits of Pickleball—Including Cognitive Flexibility, Heart Health, and More

Did you know pickleball beats out walking as an effective cardio exercise?

<p>Olga Nikiforova/Getty Images</p>

Olga Nikiforova/Getty Images

Pickleball is a relatively new sport (invented in 1965) that is beginner-friendly and fun. It’s not as strenuous as tennis but involves more movement than ping pong. With its slower pace and smaller court, is pickleball actually good for you?

We spoke with a psychologist and physician who shared some of the surprising physical and mental health benefits of pickleball. They also came up with some tips for new players to make the most of the fastest-growing sport in America.

Meet the Experts

  • Catherine Nobile, PsyD, is an NYC psychologist and director of Nobile Psychology.

  • Aditi Nerurkar, MD, is a Harvard physician and author of The 5 Resets.

What Is Pickleball and How Do You Play?

Pickleball is a moderately-paced activity for singles or doubles that mixes elements from other racquet sports like tennis, badminton, and ping pong. The size of the court is smaller than a tennis court and the same size as a badminton court, measuring 20’ x 44’ with a 36” tall net that drops to 34” in the center.

“Pickleball is one of the fastest growing recreational sports in the US, and for good reason. It's enjoyable, energizing, and social,” says Aditi Nerurkar, MD. Officials claim the rules are straightforward and can be learned in a single session. Also, you don't need any special equipment besides a paddle and perforated plastic ball, making this sport accessible for all skill levels, ages, and income levels.

Like badminton, the first serve in pickleball is underhanded and must be struck under your waistline to make a diagonal journey across the court. Players must let the ball bounce once on each side before they can volley in the volley zone. (There is a non-volley zone called the “kitchen” closer to the net.) Unlike tennis, only the serving team scores points. Games are played to 11 points, with the winning team winning by two.

Related: You Can Buy a DIY Regulation-Size Pickleball Court on Amazon for Under $70

Mental and Physical Health Benefits of Pickleball

So what sets pickleball apart, exactly? According to Catherine Nobile, PsyD, “Playing a sport you find enjoyable, such as pickleball, can offer substantial mental health benefits that an individualized fitness plan does not.”

As far as the physical benefits, pickleball has an edge, too. “Enjoying a sport you love typically leads to higher intrinsic motivation, making you eagerly anticipate the activity, stay actively involved, and derive satisfaction from participating,” says Nobile. Here’s what else you can look forward to when you start playing.

Supports Cardiovascular Health

Like any cardiovascular activity, pickleball is good for your heart. In fact, it is so good for your heart that it has an edge over more basic movements like walking.

According to a study in the journal Science & Sports, a 30-minute pickleball session was more physically demanding than a 30-minute walking session (14% higher heart rate and 36% higher calorie expenditure), but participants enjoyed pickleball 150% more. This greater enjoyment and increased demand can lead to improved cardiovascular health.

Improves Respiratory Fitness

If pickleball seems like a fun challenge, you can reap the benefits even if you are older and typically sedentary. In the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, a study found that inactive, older participants had a high adherence rate and reported improved respiratory health after a six-week pickleball intervention. As expected, they experienced “better breathing capacity and fewer respiratory symptoms.”

Helps With Proprioception and Coordination

According to Nerurkar, pickleball “has many of the similar exercise benefits as other racquet sports like tennis and squash: cardio, agility, balance, and coordination.” Maintaining balance and coordination becomes especially important as we age. Nerurkar says pickleball can “help with proprioception too—which is a medical term for spatial orientation and awareness.”

But why? Nobile explains that the dynamic movements in pickleball require “both physical exertion and mental engagement, such as strategy, quick decision-making, and coordination, which can enhance cognitive abilities and keep the mind sharp.” A strong mind-body connection can help maintain your overall agility.

Increases Cognitive Flexibility

It makes sense that pickleball can improve your balance and agility, but one surprising facet of the sport is how it can make you less rigid. According to Nobile, playing pickleball helps you develop cognitive flexibility and adaptability.

“This sport's fast-paced nature and ever-changing dynamics necessitate quick decision-making, the ability to adjust strategies swiftly, and the capacity to adapt to opponents' actions and teamwork nuances,” says Nobile.

Nobile explains that this constant requirement for flexibility and adaptability can also enhance mental agility and resilience. "[Pickleball] sharpens cognitive abilities such as problem-solving, recognizing patterns, and making decisions effectively under pressure.” All these benefits generalize beyond the court and improve your cognitive health.

“Over time, these mental skills honed through pickleball can translate into improved resilience in handling challenges both on and off the court,” says Nobile. As you continue to play, your resilience to stress should improve.

Refines Social Skills

Additionally, there is a social aspect of pickleball that should not be overlooked. Nobile explains that you need to interact with teammates and opponents, communicate during play, and engage in post-game discussions. These moments can significantly improve social skills and a sense of community, which are crucial for mental health.

"Sports like pickleball often involve social interaction with teammates, opponents, or fellow players, fostering a sense of community and reducing feelings of isolation, which significantly contributes to mental well-being."

Catherine Nobile, PsyD

Tips to Get Started on Your Pickleball Journey

You can’t just head to your backyard and play pickleball without a little foresight. To get started, you could either build your own court or, better yet, join a local group. Before you do that, though, health experts share a few tips you should know.

Check With Your Doctor

Nerurkar warns that it’s “always a good idea to speak to your doctor before starting any new physical activity, including pickleball, because your doctor knows you best. This is especially important for people who may have certain heart and lung conditions (like high blood pressure, asthma, COPD, heart disease), muscle, bone or joint conditions (arthritis, prior injuries), and neurological conditions (dizziness, balance problems, coordination difficulties).”

“Regardless of your age, first speak to your doctor and then listen to your body as you ease into pickleball, the same as you would do with any new fitness regimen,” says Nerurkar.

Warm Up Before Playing

If you are coming into pickleball in poor shape, it’s especially important to learn how to warm up before the activity. In addition to warming up, Nerurkar says to “watch your footing, have a general awareness on the court, stay hydrated, and if you're playing outside, wear SPF and sun protection and take frequent breaks!”


“As with other racquet sports—like tennis and squash—pickleball injuries can happen because its a start and stop workout,” says Nerurkar. But this risk can be minimized with the right precautions. “If you're a beginner, taking lessons to learn proper technique, swing, and stance can help with risk reduction.”

Join a Local Pickleball Club

As we mentioned, pickleball is a social sport, and there’s no better way to meet new people and have a place you’re always welcome to play than to find a club. “To maximize [the social] benefits, consider joining local pickleball communities or clubs where regular play sessions provide opportunities to meet new people and form friendships through shared experiences on the court,“ says Nobile.

Nerurkar agrees that this is the best and most sustainable way to stay active. “We know that people are more likely to stick to an exercise routine when it’s fun and when there's accountability,” says Nerurkar. “If you join a pickleball league or neighborhood group, you'll be able to fulfill both!”

Play in a Tournament

Once you get the basics down, continue to challenge yourself to keep the sport fresh and exciting. “Engaging in tournaments or leagues not only improves skills but also expands social circles, fostering camaraderie in competitive yet friendly settings,” says Nobile. “Additionally, attending social events organized by clubs, such as mixers or gatherings, allows for deeper personal connections outside of regular play.”

Try Doubles

Singles might be easier than doubles, but doubles could offer more health benefits overall. According to Nobile, “playing doubles promotes teamwork and communication, enhancing social interaction both during and after games.”

If you're nervous about interacting with others, just be approachable, even if you’re not confident in your game or social skills yet. “Being approachable, offering encouragement to fellow players, and staying involved in the pickleball community further enriches the social aspect of the sport, creating a welcoming environment for all participants,” says Nobile.


Whether or not pickleball can greatly improve your fitness depends on what you enjoy doing and your values. “For example, if someone values beating a personal record, running alone may be best,” says Nobile. “In contrast, for people who value community and innovative thinking, team sports are a better fit.”

Related: This Is Exactly How Much Exercise You Need Per Week—and Why It's So Darn Important

For more Real Simple news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Read the original article on Real Simple.