How Pickleball Can Help You Thrive and Stay Alive


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Today, I want to explore the vital components that optimize our lives, the future of pickleball, and why it could indeed change your life! Firstly, humans are complex creatures that require a multifaceted approach for health and survival. Over time, humans have become an advanced civilization, but our fundamental needs never change. The blueprint for survival has always been there. Secondly, even though pickleball is already a hot topic, what lies ahead for the sport remains to be seen. As a player, you well know that the combination of physical exercise, challenge, social engagement, philanthropy, and psychological well-being can all be found on the pickleball court!

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor nor do I play one on the internet. None of the information in this article is intended as medical advice. Before starting any new physical activity you should consult with a doctor. We have made some general observations about the similarity between pickleball and other sports that have been studied for health benefits, but we make no health claims about pickleball.

One thing that many people really love about pickleball, is that anyone can benefit; regardless of ability, ethnicity, weight, experience, age, or geography. It seems nowadays everyone has high privacy fences and small kitchen tables. Nobody knows their neighbor anymore; we’re too busy watching Netflix or TikTok videos. Fitting everything in seems to be a struggle for everyone these days, but pickleball is like hitting many birds with one stone. For an adequate amount of exercise and social connection, among other benefits, look no further than the pickleball court! Regular exercise has been shown to have a long list of positive effects on the human body. Have you ever felt more positive or joyful after breaking a sweat? This is known as ‘runners high,’ and there is no shortage of research on this phenomenon showing that after physical activity, we can experience improved brain cognition and reduced anxiety. A common misconception about runners high is that endorphins are responsible for those feelings of euphoria, but in fact, the endorphin molecules are too large to cross the blood-brain barrier. New discoveries have found that endocannabinoids are delivered into the bloodstream during exercise, much like what happens to your system when you use tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the predominant compound found in cannabis. Anandamide is an endocannabinoid that can be found in large amounts in the bloodstream after a run or rigorous aerobic exercise, resulting in those happy feelings. The chemical can bind to receptors in the brain and spinal cord, shown below in both the central and peripheral nervous systems. Research is still being done in this space to further confirm these effects.

CENTRAL NERVOUS SYSTEM

PERIPHERAL NERVOUS SYSTEM

I am willing to bet that runners high used to be commonplace for our early ancestors. Over time, our society’s survival has shifted from physical labor to more brainwork. As a result, we have had to reintroduce physical activities to balance out our static lifestyles. What we now call exercise and working out, used to be a part of everyday life. Think about an average day for indigenous people. Our ancestors would track down and kill animals all day using wooden spears that they handcrafted using fire to bend and harden the wood, allowing them to penetrate large animals like Buffalo or Kangaroos. Imagine if this was how you provided for your family? Keep in mind, aboriginal people relied on their natural resources to keep everything together. They did not have education or medical care at their disposal, instead what they had was instinct. In contrast, our society has become sheltered and dependent. If we are being honest, some of us are reliant on social media, Netflix, and our smartphones to function. None of these developments are sustainable for human health. I personally deleted all social media five years ago and haven’t missed a thing. Aside from the business advantages, I encourage people to ask themselves, “What would my life be like with no social media; or what would I do with the extra time? ” These modern habitual conditions did not get us through the pandemic as you can see here in an article titled “ Depression triples in US adults amid COVID-19 stressors. ” However,  outdoor activities like pickleball flourished during this time because they provided space, fresh air, and perhaps a runners high. 

It’s funny, because nowadays it seems like we are getting back to our old ways in some sense. Calisthenics first started in Germany, but was quickly adopted in the U.S. when Catherine Beecher wrote Physiology and Calisthenics for Schools and Families (1857). I think this activity is just now being formalized, and that indigenous people would laugh about our efforts. You can see below some of the similarities between indigenous people hunting for their food and a modern-day person performing a lunge; which is one of the most common calisthenic exercises. I guess some things never change. 

However, our motivation is not something we have in common. If it starts raining, we usually pull back and watch a movie on the couch; even though we workout indoors. For our ancestors,  “no days off” carried a little more weight to say the least. If you didn’t hunt or gather, you didn’t eat. 

Have you ever felt like your stomach is going to explode during a workout because of cramping? Cardio is an attractive quality of pickleball and is a crucial component for maintaining a healthy heart and gaining endurance, but too much can have adverse effects. When you exert yourself, the heart begins to stretch; thus increasing your endurance capacity. However, when the heart starts beating too fast and does not have time to fully relax, it starts to twitch. This can be the case during excessive isometric exercises; planks, low squats, split squats, power cleans, and olympic lifts. The heart is only a small part of increasing endurance though.

The human body uses three main energy systems; creatine phosphate system, aerobic energy system, and the glycolytic system. The creatine phosphate system transfers a high-energy phosphate from adenosine diphosphate ( ADP ) to regenerate the adenosine triphosphate ( ATP ), which are the building blocks for energy production. This is an anaerobic system that does not use oxygen to produce energy; instead, it uses glucose from food storage. This system is deployed during high-intensity workouts that use fast muscle-twitch fibers, and is only sustainable for thirty seconds or so, due to the lack of oxygen. The aerobic energy system on the other hand does use oxygen to produce energy. This energy is stored for longer periods of exercise at low intensities. The system converts glycogen into glucose. The glucose is then broken down during multiple stages to produce hydrogen ions, which then get converted into ATP. This increases the mitochondrial content per gram and the protein to lipid ratio, which improves the aerobic metabolism. This means that the system is not as powerful, but it can last way longer for slow muscle-twitch fiber activities such as; distance running, swimming, or cycling. The glycolytic system is an in-between system that relies on carbohydrates from anything that you would eat or drink to produce energy. It also operates without the presence of oxygen in the cells, but it does last a bit longer than the creatine phosphate system. These three main energy systems will sometimes work together, but one will be predominant. 

I think we are all familiar with lactic acid, the organic compound that accumulates in your muscles leading to pain and discomfort. In order to build up a tolerance to lactic acid, you have to increase the mitochondria count by doing fast and short intervals like wind sprints. You want your body to be able to dispose of the acid faster than it is being produced. To do this, you want to stay right below what they call the aerobic threshold. A good way to test whether or not you are within the aerobic threshold is to try talking to someone while you are doing the exercise. You should feel like you can continue for a long period of time. If you have a heart rate monitor, you could also make sure that you are in zone 1 or 2. This means that your heart rate is at 50-70% of your max heart rate. You can calculate your max heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. Pickleball is a great medium that allows your body to use the aerobic energy system, as long as your heart is not redlining and you can pass the talking test. To achieve this, I recommend playing doubles. This type of exercise is the most heart-healthy and your cardiovascular system will thank you for it.

Pickleball is also rather injury-friendly. I have had chronic back pain for several years now, due to an injury in my lower back (L4 Lumbar). My MRIs show the damaged vertebra to the right. Pickleball has given me an opportunity to still be active, without stressing the injury. I find that playing doubles releases the pressure and loosens my lower back. Although there are many health benefits to playing pickleball, injuries such as tennis elbow can occur from repetitive motion. To avoid inflamed tissues, you can read about critical advice in our article “ pickleball injuries and prevention.” 

John Gottman conducted a study showing the optimal ratio of positive to negative interactions in a relationship. The study found that anything below a 5:1, five being positive and one being negative, the person leaves the relationship. This makes sense because nobody likes being around negativity; however, what is interesting is that anything above 11:1, the person also leaves the relationship. Perhaps, they leave because nobody likes a pushover and people want a little pushback. People need some challenges so that they can grow. The same is true for most competitive sports. When one opponent is no good and the other easily wins every point with no defiance, the game becomes monotonous and lacks excitement. Luckily, pickleball is here again to save the day. Although the game has a funny name and is easy to learn how to play relative to tennis, there can be plenty of opposition and challenge to be had. The game is played at a much slower pace, allowing all skill levels to pick it up and play along. This is why pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the U.S. 

Calisthenics and Homeopathy are two trends that we now practice as if they are a new phenomenon … Homeopathy claims to have been developed in the late 1700s in Germany; however, this was the only way for the indigenous people to heal. They would listen to their bodies, it’s not rocket science. If you had pizza every morning for breakfast, you would probably know why you feel like a sack of potatoes all day. You would not necessarily need to know that when you eat the pizza every morning, you run the chance that your body may not be able to produce enough insulin to allow the glucose to enter the cells, thus leading to hypoglycemia. Although, information like this is useful for people, especially for those that struggle with depression because your blood sugar can very easily spike if you encounter a complex or demanding activity. Add on top of that a breakfast full of simple carbs and sugars, and you have yourself a recipe for mental instability until your body can sleep and reset. Keep in mind, the two main components that control your blood sugar levels include the amount of exercise you get and the foods you eat. Our forefathers involuntarily included these two factors perfectly. Rotting away on the couch in the basement with Cheeto dust on our chest is not our survival instinct. This is why we get a runner’s high or feel good after we break a sweat, it’s in our blood! It is also my opinion that having a breakfast full of healthy fats and proteins is psychologically crucial to combat whatever the world decides to throw at you. That being said, pickleball certainly has the potential to satisfy our physical and mental needs, and even keep our immunity in good shape. The pickleball chain reaction can fend off almost any objection. The point here is that we can make things a lot easier on ourselves if we tune into our instincts as our ancestors did so well.

I think people have become more aware of the importance of their health since the rise of ultra-processed foods. Though fast food still dominates because of its convenience, mindfulness is a step in the right direction. I think that people are realizing the long-term effects of the Standard American Diet (SAD).

Studies have shown that sugary foods signal the brain’s reward system by releasing a neurotransmitter called dopamine; much like cocaine and nicotine do. From first-hand experience, I can tell you that how addicted we are to the foods we eat, is frightening. Doctors and nutritional enthusiasts are constantly coming out with a new health trend. When it comes to the foods we eat, there is no one size fits all because everybody’s body reacts differently to certain foods. Although, I can testify that the carnivore diet or the lions diet, popularized by Dr. Shawn Baker, worked wonders for me. This means only consuming salt, water, and meat from ruminant animals. This was unquestionably the hardest thing I have ever done. There is limited research on this new approach, but plenty of individual experiments show positive effects. One of the biggest questions about this diet is whether or not it provides enough micronutrients. Our bodies, with the exception of vitamin D, cannot produce micronutrients; therefore we must derive vitamins such as manganese (Mn), iron (Fe), and zinc (Zn) from plants. Interestingly enough, my blood work results show a different story. Below you can see that after participating in the lions diet for 90 days, my vitamin D and iron deficiencies corrected themselves; along with no other deficiencies developed during the diet. 

BEFORE


AFTER

There is some research that shows on a zero-carb diet, there is less need for micronutrients, specifically vitamin A. The body requires a large amount of vitamin A to metabolize carbohydrates, thus leading to less demand for vitamin A in a zero-carb diet. If you want to learn more, you can read this article. Further investigation is needed to confirm what the micronutrient requirements are for these different nutrient profiles, so make sure to consult with a doctor before engaging in any extreme dietary changes. This diet was intriguing to me because although it may seem extreme for us, our ancestors and those who homestead in parts of Alaska, practically do this every year in the colder regions, where fruit trees and berry bushes cannot grow. When I was on the lions diet, I felt like I could run through a wall; meaning, I never felt better. Though cooking every meal and eating the same thing every day did become mundane, so I do not necessarily recommend trying this diet.

Heart Disease is still the leading cause of death in the U.S., but hopefully, as we continue to reveal the nutritional costs of an unhealthy diet, those numbers will begin to decline. Below is a chart representing the cause of deaths for different categories in the U.S. Health trends are not going anywhere. Right now, the biggest hurdle is convenience, but I have good news.

In 2017, Amazon acquired Whole Foods in a deal valued at $13.7 billion. This triggered a new philosophy that eventually hit hard when Covid-19 arrived. Google searches for “food delivery” sky-rocketed in April of 2020. Companies like Hello Fresh, Freshly, and Home Chef capitalized on delivering meal kits directly to homes. The issue here is the amount of waste from these food boxes. However, if consumers order in bulk, this model makes more sense. Although getting fresh healthy foods to your door is expensive for some, the cost will continue to fall.  With a prime membership, Amazon already offers free two-hour delivery from Whole Foods. These dynamics will continue to change dramatically in the near future. I guess in some ways, the American Milkman is back! Fully autonomous electric vehicles (EV’s) are here, and they are going to change the world. Waymo, a company based out of mountain view, California already offers a 100% driverless service in Phoenix. These EVs are confined within a geo-fence to ensure the safety and confidence of the technology, but these regions will rapidly expand. The economic efficiency of this model will pushback any opposition. The liability of owning a vehicle will eventually not make sense anymore when you consider the fact that using this system known as Mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) is projected to be 90% cheaper. Imagine the effects of this development. Amazon is planning to bring this tech to their distribution network, which means the cost and time it takes to deliver groceries will be cut in half. Amazon just bought an autonomous ride-hailing technology called Zoox for $1.2 billion, so that they can bring their vision to reality. The economy will undoubtedly feel this shift in a positive way. The greatest asset we have is time, which is another reason why this innovation will be relentless. 

Pulling together what I have mentioned above may seem like a brain dump, but it makes me wonder what impact these creations will have on pickleball? What will the pickleball community do with more time and money to spare? With fewer vehicles on the road and less demand for parking lots; apartment complexes and recreation centers will have to convert the empty spaces into additional amenities, perhaps a pickleball court! One of the reasons why pickleball has trickled down to the younger generations is because pickleball can be found at parks, recreation centers, and schools; not just at country clubs that are occupied mostly by the older generations. The snowball is only becoming bigger with the potential of abandoned parking lots getting converted into pickleball courts. It seems we are often returning to our old ways; considering that the carnivore diet is on the rise, exercise hasn’t changed one bit since our early ancestors, and the American Milkman is back!

We may not be throwing spears together, but pickleball is nothing short of a team sport that covers all of the bases for a comprehensive approach to health. Social engagement has been a part of who we are since the beginning of time, and pickleball can easily fill that void. Pickleball can be something to identify with for those who want to immerse themselves in the sport, or it can just be something fun to do with family and friends. This game may have a funny name, but it is still the fastest growing sport in the U.S.; I wouldn’t sleep on it! The future of pickleball is very bright. The social and economic impacts of pickleball are rich. The first Minto U.S. Open Pickleball Championship was held in Naples, Florida in 2016 generating $2.5 million and in 2018, that number would grow to $4.5 million.  Middletown, a smaller settlement in Ohio, is pulling in $300k for the local economy every year at the Middletown senior Pickleball Tournament. Normally, pickleball fans would have to wait 3 weeks before the tape-deferred matches were released. For the first time in April of 2020, CBS sports network broadcasted live the 2020 Pickleball US Open from Naples, Florida. The sport also does a lot of good and has opened up more opportunities for philanthropic efforts. The pickleball culture really fits the bill for fundraising and the community has hosted many events to raise money for non-profit organizations and foundations such as St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Even though the game is turning heads, unfortunately, pickleball is not an Olympic sport. In order for this to happen, the game would need to become prevalent worldwide. Currently, the game is mostly played in Mexico, United States, and Canada. Nevertheless, pickleball has plenty of spunk and is changing lives across North America, one game at a time. 

I hope this article reveals the domino effect that pickleball can have on a person’s health. This game is finding its way into the world, and I am curious how pickleball has influenced your life, or someone close to you? Do you think pickleball can change someone’s life? How big can this sport become? Do you have any funny pickleball stories? I would love to hear some in the comments below! 

1 thought on “How Pickleball Can Help You Thrive and Stay Alive”

  1. I think pickle ball will continue to grow at a fast pace! It is fun, easy, and engaging. I played for the first time in June against my brother (who had played before). I picked it up rather quickly. Almost beating him the first game we played.

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