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Voice of Experience

Voice of Experience: May 2024

Can Pickleball Make Me Smarter?

Rod Kubat


  • Experts studying the benefits of playing Pickleball have found that it improves many aspects of one’s health.
  • Regularly playing pickleball provides exercise that is known to improve brain health and reduce stress.
Can Pickleball Make Me Smarter?

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According to USA Pickleball, the sport’s governing body in the United States, Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the U.S. It is easy to learn and fun to play. Many of you may already be avid fans and play regularly. For those who are unfamiliar with pickleball, the basic rules are relatively simple

Overview of the Game and Rules

Pickleball is played with a paddle and a plastic ball with circular holes, each of which must meet approved standards, on a court that is 20’ by 44’ (smaller than a tennis court) and divided in the middle by a tennis-like net. The 7’ area on either side of the net is commonly called the “kitchen,” and the back 15’ area on each side is commonly called the right and left service or receiving court areas. A vertical line separates the right and left service/receiving areas of the court, and a horizontal line separates the kitchen from the service/receiving areas

Pickleball can be played as a singles or a doubles game and uses the same size court, kitchen, and service/receiving areas for both. For a doubles game, one player serves, using an approved serving motion, from the right serving area cross-court into the right receiving area, and the pickleball must land behind the back line of the kitchen. The receiving player must allow the serve to bounce before returning the serve. The serving team must let the pickleball bounce before returning it. After that, both teams can either let the pickleball bounce and then hit it, or they can volley it in the air before it bounces. Points are scored only by the serving team and only when the serving team wins the volley, or the other team commits a fault, such as by hitting the pickleball into the net, out of bounds, or before it bounces while standing in the kitchen. Except for the first serving player, each player is allowed to serve until the serving player has lost two points. Servers alternate serving into the right and left receiving courts until the serving player has lost two points. Then, the other team serves. Serving teams alternate servers and turns. Games are usually played to 11 points, but the winning team must be ahead of the other team by at least two points. 

How does playing pickleball make me smarter?

In a previous article, Am I Losing My Mind?-Maintaining Cognitive Abilities As Senior Lawyers Age, I reviewed various factors identified by experts as ways to maintain and improve cognitive abilities. Those factors included staying mentally active by engaging in regular challenging mental activity, managing stress with regular exercise, maintaining social connections by engaging in personally meaningful and productive activities with others, and improving strength and balance to protect against falls and brain injuries. Experts studying the benefits of playing pickleball to a person’s health have confirmed that playing pickleball provides benefits with respect to each of these factors, including cognitive abilities.

The Center for Disease Control’s physical activity recommendations include at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise at 50% or more of maximum heart rate. A study of older adult Pickleball players conducted by researchers at the University of Manitoba found that “[m]ean heart rates achieved during singles and doubles play met the criteria for moderate intensity physical activity.” The same study found that over 70% of the participants achieved heart rate levels in the moderate to vigorous intensity levels. Physical activity at these levels “… contributes to heart health, lung health, and weight management.”  Playing pickleball regularly provides the type of exercise known to help with stress management and improve brain health, including better sleep, reduced risk of depression and anxiety, and enhanced memory.

Pickleball players must strategize about pickleball placement, speed, and spin. The game requires good hand-eye coordination and depth perception. Players must make quick calculations of the opponents’ shot speed and angle, whether to let the pickleball bounce before striking it or volley the pickleball in the air, the opponents’ location on the court, and, of course, where to place the return shot. Players must be ever aware of the kitchen so as to avoid a fault by entering it improperly and losing the point. All of these activities challenge the mind and contribute to maintaining and improving cognitive abilities.

Pickleball players also build muscle strength while playing because the movement stresses muscles and bones, which causes them to grow and contributes to avoiding osteoporosis. Pickleball is considered a low-impact sport, reducing the stress on joints, which benefits seniors.

Pickleball players are required to move forward, backward, and laterally across the court.  Pickleball also requires players to move quickly around the court, while maintaining awareness of the kitchen and avoiding volleys while in it or that may cause the player to cross the kitchen zone line. All these aspects of Pickleball contribute to better balance, which is important for avoiding falls, a leading cause of brain injuries in older adults.

Studies also demonstrate Pickleball's mental health benefits among older adults. Because Pickleball is easy to learn, inexpensive to play, and less intense than many other sports, senior adults can play Pickleball more easily than many other racquet sports.  The most popular form of Pickleball is doubles. The opportunities to meet new people and develop broader social relationships by playing Pickleball greatly benefit seniors. Coupled with pride in developing a new skill and engaging in an enjoyable activity, enhancing social relationships through Pickleball contributes to the player’s happiness, satisfaction with life, and overall feeling of well-being.

Playing Pickleball provides good exercise and fun social interactions. It challenges the mind with quickly changing circumstances and fast-paced strategy decisions. In addition, Pickleball requires body movement and balance, laterally, forward, and backward, and builds muscle strength and bone density by stressing muscles and bones while playing. Because playing Pickleball provides health benefits that health professionals have identified are important for maintaining and improving our cognitive abilities, I believe playing pickleball regularly can make me smarter! At a minimum, it will contribute to my physical fitness and should help me slow future cognitive decline.

A Word of Caution. If you are just beginning Pickleball and have not already done so, check with your healthcare team to ensure there are no health-related issues that would preclude your participation in Pickleball. In addition, engaging in a conditioning program that is appropriate for you prior to or as part of your pickleball participation will be beneficial and help avoid injuries. Experts encourage a 3-5 minute warm-up, followed by stretching major muscle groups, before commencing the actual Pickleball games.  Once you are finished, experts also recommend a 3 to 5-minute cool down followed again by stretching.

For me, the most important benefits of playing pickleball are meeting new friends and simply having fun! If you have never played Pickleball, I encourage you to pick up a paddle and ball, get a good pair of court shoes for support, take a lesson, meet new friends, and have fun playing Pickleball. It just might make you smarter, too!