Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT)


Health Science

Faculty Mentor

Dr. Becca Jordre PT, DPT, PhD


Competition, grip strength, 5 times sit to stand, balance, gait speed, aging athlete

Subject Categories

Physical Therapy | Rehabilitation and Therapy


Background: Pickleball is rising in popularity, especially among older adults. Pickleball boasts psychological and physical benefits to aging athletes. Singles pickleball has been found to approximate brisk walking in metabolic equivalents (METs) at 4.1, while the METs level for singles tennis is 7.0-8.0. The physical health benefits of tennis are known to be positive while those of pickleball are still being explored. With objective differences in MET level it may be surmised that health outcomes might vary between the two sports.

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to use the Senior Athlete Fitness Exam (SAFE) to quantify and compare the health characteristics of older pickleball athletes to older tennis athletes.

Methods: Senior athletes who completed the SAFE at the National Senior Games between 2013 and 2019 and were exclusively registered to compete in pickleball or tennis were analyzed. Screening was conducted by trained personnel and included subtests for cardiovascular health, strength, mobility, flexibility, and balance. Demographic information and SAFE subtest results were compared between tennis and pickleball groups.

Results: Significant differences were found between tennis and pickleball athletes in the categories of single leg balance with eyes open (p = 0.03), fast gait speed (p = 0.02), and shoulder range of motion (p < 0.01). Pickleball players performed better than tennis in all significantly different outcome measures.

Conclusion: Pickleball and tennis provide similar health benefits to older athletes, leaving more options for older adults interested in staying healthy. Previously reported intensity levels for pickleball may be underestimated.



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