October 18, 2023
New Apple research highlights the health benefits of pickleball
The Apple Heart and Movement Study reveals tennis and pickleball are a win for overall health, as pickleball’s popularity continues to rise
Researchers from the Apple Heart and Movement Study share new insights into one of the fastest-growing sports around the world: pickleball. To see how this emerging sport compared against the long-standing game of tennis, and how it impacts overall health, researchers turned to the data.
In one of the largest observational datasets of pickleball activity collected using Apple Watch, researchers found trends in both pickleball and tennis workout data that highlight the potential health benefits of both activities.
Participants often played pickleball and tennis for long periods of time, averaging a peak heart rate within 70 percent of their estimated max heart rate during recorded workouts. Pickleball workouts lasted for slightly longer than tennis workouts, while tennis workouts averaged more time spent in higher-intensity heart rate zones and had a higher average peak heart rate.
Researchers also saw a steady increase in the popularity of pickleball workouts, with pickleball workouts surpassing tennis workouts for the first time. Utah took the top spot as the state with the most recorded pickleball workouts per capita in the study. The research found that both pickleball and tennis workouts were popular across all adult ages, and both were more popular with men than women.
Observing participant behavior, coupled with activity and sensor data from Apple Watch, helps advance researchers’ understanding of factors affecting heart health and mobility over time.
“The Apple Heart and Movement Study offers us remarkable opportunities to follow participants’ behavior changes and the consequences of these changes on health,” said Calum MacRae, M.D., Ph.D., a cardiologist, Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and principal investigator of the Apple Heart and Movement Study at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “Following the growth of pickleball using Apple Watch data allows us to explore emerging trends and the effects of activity on multiple metrics of health and wellness that were not accessible before.”
The Apple Heart and Movement Study is one of three public research studies Apple introduced in the Research app, in collaboration with leading institutions. The Research app gives researchers the ability to broaden the scale and scope of their studies, helping uncover new scientific findings, and furthers Apple’s ability to create new features grounded in science in the process.
Paddles and Rackets: Both Offer a Healthy Activity for All
After analyzing more than 250,000 pickleball and tennis workouts recorded on Apple Watch by study participants, researchers found pickleball workouts were slightly longer than tennis workouts on average — 90 minutes versus 81 minutes, respectively — and saw greater variability in time played.
To assess the intensity of each workout type, researchers analyzed heart rate data. The average peak heart rate was nine beats per minute faster during tennis workouts, which averaged 152 beats per minute, compared to 143 beats per minute in pickleball.
Heart rate zones are another way to assess exercise effort. While both sports had similar trends in time spent within each heart rate zone, on average, tennis workouts had nine percentage points more time in higher-intensity heart rate zones compared to pickleball workouts.
Both pickleball and tennis workouts were often played for long periods of time, with participants averaging a peak heart rate within 70 percent of their estimated max heart rate during recorded workouts. Regular physical activity is associated with improved quality of life and healthy aging.
A Match with Mindfulness
The potential impact of exercise on mental health was important for researchers to consider. The study offers participants an optional mental health survey that includes a depression screening tool called the Patient Health Questionnaire-2 (PHQ-2).
Across the study, results consistent with a depressed mood were rare, but the distribution of PHQ-2 scores was lower among frequent pickleball and tennis players. The odds of the PHQ-2 results suggestive of depressed mood were 60.1 percent lower among frequent pickleball players and 51.3 percent lower among tennis players than the general participant pool, reinforcing the potential benefits of physical activity on mental wellbeing.
“Research is a vital component to our work in health at Apple, and it’s important to see the science behind the mental and physical benefits of activities like pickleball and tennis on Apple Watch users,” said Sumbul Desai, M.D., Apple’s vice president of Health. “Physical inactivity is a modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular disease and a number of other chronic conditions. Finding an activity that someone enjoys partaking in can help build a routine, whether that means picking up a paddle or a racket.”
According to the study, in July 2023, the number of participants playing pickleball in a single month surpassed the number of participants playing tennis for the first time. Tennis workout trends saw seasonal variation, while pickleball workouts saw relatively steady growth.
“We are pleased to see pickleball-related findings included in the Apple Heart and Movement Study, in collaboration with Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the American Heart Association. There are numerous benefits for individuals of all ages and backgrounds on the pickleball courts as part of a healthy, social, and active lifestyle,” said Mike Nealy, USA Pickleball’s chief executive officer. “As the sport’s national governing body in the United States, it’s increasingly meaningful to see science behind pickleball using real-world data from Apple Watch. The relatively low-impact, informal, and social nature of pickleball can offer a useful and enjoyable outlet for those looking to increase movement and add to their workouts.”
The research found that both sports were popular across ages and more popular for men than women. On average, players who logged at least 10 pickleball workouts were older than their counterparts in tennis — 51 versus 45, respectively — and had higher female participation rates.
Utah Picklers Earn Top Spot
A hub for the sport, Utah stood out in the research as the most popular state per capita for pickleball, with just over one in every 16 study participants giving the sport a try at least once.
“We’re excited to see that in the latest research study update from the Apple Heart and Movement Study, Utah stood out as the most popular state per capita for pickleball. It’s awesome that so many Utahns are grabbing the opportunity pickleball offers to incorporate activity into their days, and this research is a great reminder that exercise of any kind is a powerful way to improve our health over the long term,” said Spencer J. Cox, Utah’s governor.
About the Apple Heart and Movement Study
The Apple Heart and Movement Study, a collaboration with Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the American Heart Association, and Apple, explores the links between physical activity and heart health, and has more than 200,000 participants across the United States who have given their consent to share data.
Apple Watch Tips for Pickleball Players
Apple Watch offers users a number of ways to stay connected, active, healthy, and safe:
- To track pickleball sessions on Apple Watch, go to the Workout app and choose Add Workout, then select Pickleball. To help track workout intensity, users can also customize their Workout views on Apple Watch to include Heart Rate Zones. Users can review their activity data in the Fitness app on iPhone or health data in the Health app on iPhone or iPad.
- With the new double tap gesture coming later this month to Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2, users can answer and end a phone call or reply to a message with one hand while on the court, while the other hand is holding their paddle.
- To stay in the zone, users can create a custom Focus on their iPhone to choose when they want to receive alerts and notifications on Apple Watch, while letting other people know when they’re busy. In Settings, choose Focus, tap the Add button, and then choose Custom to tailor the options.
- By setting up Apple Pay on Apple Watch, users can leave their wallets at home and pay right from their wrist.
- Users can slip an AirTag into their pickleball bag and track its location right on Apple Watch. Go to the Find Items app, and choose whether to play a sound or pull up directions to find the item.
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