Positive power Of pickleball

Debbie Hamlin, left, of the Village of Pinellas, and Roger Topham, of the Village of St. James, compete in the Pickleball Community Volunteer Group’s monthly pickleball tournament at the Rohan Recreation Center in August. Research shows there are mental health benefits to playing the sport.

When pickleball players hit one of the more than 100 courts in The Villages to play a match, they’re working out more than just their bodies. Research shows they’re also working out their minds.

Access to the sport, which ranks among the highest in popularity in The Villages, continues to grow as more courts are added as the community expands.

“It is a social game. That is why it has exploded in the last 10 to 15 years,” said Rob Krieghoff , of the Village of Sanibel.

Rob and his wife, Diane,  are co-directors of the Pickleball Community Volunteer Group beginner pickleball program. They said they have made great friends from playing the sport. They said pickleball improves well-being as it releases endorphins in the brain.

A study done in Japan, which was published in the journal “Leisure Studies” in May, confirms this after observing more than 150 pickleball players. The results concluded that participating in “serious leisure” activities, like pickleball, and depression were inversely related.

Cheryl Wermuth,  of the Village of Antrim Dells, is a registered nurse who plays pickleball on a regular basis.

“Any exercise you can do releases endorphins to help depression,” Wermuth said. “When you play pickleball there is socialization, laughing, fun and even weight loss.”

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 16 million adults in the United States had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. Statistics from NAMI show that depression, along with anxiety, is one of the most common mental illnesses in the U.S. According to doctors and multiple studies done on mental health, one way to combat depression is with regular exercise.

In The Villages, there are a variety of ways to exercise, and you do not have to do it alone.

Cathy Salmons, a behavioral therapist for The Villages Health at Colony Care Center, said exercise can help relieve the mind.

“Physical activity, and specific types of physical activity, can reduce levels of toxic stress hormones, depression, and anxiety, as well as reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease,” Salmons said.

Pickleball, she said, checks all the boxes when it comes to providing the mental health benefits of exercise.

“Pickleball meets the criteria for the amount of vigorous physical activity needed, which is three to four days per week,” Salmons said.

Every case of depression is different and every individual going through it is different. Salmons said there are various ways to help treat depression, or at least reduce the symptoms. There are options, including therapy and medication, but exercise is something that can be done on one’s own schedule and, in many cases, for free.

“Regardless of where it comes from, exercise is a tool that can help,” Salmons said. “I recommend it to anyone who comes to me with depression.”

Brenden Martin is a staff writer with The Villages Daily Sun. He can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5362, or brenden.martin@thevillagesmedia.com.