Q | I keep hearing about more and more people playing pickleball. What exactly is it? And is it like tennis?
A | “Pickleball is essentially part tennis, part badminton, and part ping pong,” says Ajay Pant, senior director of racquet sports at Life Time. “It’s origins actually date back to 1965, but we’ve seen a large, newfound surge in interest and participation in it seemingly due to the pandemic.”
Pant explains that many people play pickleball for the social aspect. During the pandemic, when people were looking for something safe and active to do with others outdoors, many discovered pickleball. While it’s become increasingly popular over the last five years, pickleball participation grew more than 21 percent in the last year alone — and it’s continuing to grow.
The biggest difference between pickleball and tennis or other racquet sports is the learning curve: Pant explains that there’s an easier relationship between the body and the racquet because everything, including court space, is condensed. Plus, you use a whiffle ball, so there’s no compression and you don’t have to worry about how fast the ball travels.
It’s a great sport for a large population of people because it’s easy to learn — more so than any other racquet sport. It’s also low impact so it’s not hard on your joints, while still serving as a great form of exercise. Plus, it facilitates an extremely social atmosphere.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” says Pant. “Strangers meet others by inviting them to play. People don’t mind waiting their turn for a court. It’s just unheard of. Pickleball players are a notoriously friendly group. Pick-up games are common, and your skill level isn’t judged.”
While previously viewed primarily as a game for active agers, more young people have been picking up the sport. Today, the average age of a player is right around 43 years old. “Anyone can learn and start playing pickleball within 10 minutes,” says Pant.
It’s not just a good social activity, though: The sport can also benefit your health. Playing pickleball can help lower blood pressure and the risk of heart attack. It supports heart health by slightly raising your heart rate, which can get blood flowing and spreading nutrients throughout the body.
It also works your agility and ability to change direction, which can support your other fitness endeavors. And because it’s a form of light aerobic exercise, it’s a great option for active recovery.
“To me, this craze should have happened 10 or 12 years ago,” says Pant.