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Swing Into Fitness 

With the arrival of spring and warm weather, golfers are flocking to the courses in record numbers, seeking a few hours of enjoyable recreation. But, more than just a recreational pastime, golf is great exercise for the body and mind in many ways -- if you walk the course rather than drive a cart.

The physical act of simply walking 7,000 yards (four to five miles, the average length of an 18-hole golf course) is plenty of exercise as is. If the course is hilly, your workout will be even more beneficial. Plus, the movements that go into golf swings -- motions of the hands, wrists, arms, shoulders, hips, legs and feet -- are all good exercise as well.

In addition to physical benefits, golf also keeps the player mentally sharp, alert and focused on a specific goal. Concentrating attention on moving a fixed object (the ball) from its lie to the target (the green and the hole) is a great mental exercise that can help keep a player's mind sharp.

Stan Stopa, director of golf at Audubon Park Golf Course, followed the guidelines in my first book, Lose Your Love Handles. He was able to lose a considerable amount of abdominal fat. He recently shared with me some of his thoughts on the benefits of golf.

"Nearly everyone on the PGA (Professional Golfers' Association) tour is working out and getting in shape these days," Stopa says. "You've got to be in good shape to walk a 7,000-yard course four times, play 72 holes in a tournament and swing a club at 125 miles per hour. And now this trend is filtering down to the recreational golfer. They're all realizing the benefits -- to their games and their bodies -- of being in shape."

Stopa also noted that professional golfers enjoy one of the highest longevity levels of any profession. Legendary golfer Sam Snead, who died just two years ago, was 89. Louisiana native Fred Haas was 88 when he died in January, and Gene Sarazen was close to 100 when he died in 1999. Byron Nelson is still alive in his 90s. Arnold Palmer, Chi Chi Rodriguez and several other greats are comparatively young men in their 70s, and they are still playing.

"Golf is a sport for all ages, the only sport that all ages can enjoy," he says. "You can play it till you can't walk anymore. You can't say that about any other sport. You don't even have to be that good to get the full benefits of the exercise, and you can even play by yourself. You don't need a partner like you do in tennis or handball."

Just as playing golf can help you get more physically fit, getting yourself more physically fit can help you play better. Stopa encourages golfers to do stretching exercises before a round of golf and hitting a basket or two of practice balls on a driving range if one is available. "You will suffer fewer injuries if you're in good shape before you set foot on the course," he says. "You will get more club head speed with less effort."

So, if you want some great, healthy exercise, dust off those clubs, hit the links and leave the cart at the clubhouse. Carry your own bag or pull it behind you and have a good time.

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