Apple Watch data shows you should play more pickleball


Never heard of pickleball? Don't worry, Apple has tips for you.
Never heard of pickleball? Don't worry, Apple has tips for you.
Photo: Apple

As the nascent sport of pickleball becomes more popular worldwide, new Apple research shows both it and its older sibling, tennis, pack big health benefits.

The Apple Heart and Movement Study tracked Apple Watch data from thousands of users to get the results.

Apple Watch data shows health benefits of playing pickleball and tennis

Apple Heart and Movement Study researchers found trends in Apple Watch pickleball and tennis workout data showing the likely health benefits of playing both sports.

Researchers noted “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.”

While pickleball workouts tended to last a bit longer than tennis workouts — 9 minutes longer on average — tennis players spent more in higher-intensity heart rate zones with a higher average peak heart rate than pickleballers.

And in bad news for tennis players having a hard enough time as it is finding a court, the research appears to confirm pickleball has surpassed tennis in popularity. But they’re both popular across all adult age groups, with pickleballers showing a bit more age than tennis players. And while men play both sports more than women do, pickleball picks up more women than tennis overall (so to speak).

Large observational dataset

The study found that pickleball has overtaken tennis in popularity.
The study found that pickleball has overtaken tennis in popularity.
Photo: Apple

The overarching study observes participant behavior and looks at activity and sensor data from Apple Watch to better understand what affects heart health and mobility over time.

In one of the largest observational datasets of pickleball activity collected using Apple Watch, it looked at more than 250,000 pickleball and tennis workouts.

“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,” he added.

One of 3 public research studies

In collaboration with major institutions, the Apple Heart and Movement Study is one of three public research studies Apple introduced in the Research app.

“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,” Apple noted.

Here are more of the findings, according to the Apple Watch maker:

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.

Play sports for mental health, too

You can track either pickleball or tennis workouts in the Workout app on Apple Watch.
You can track either pickleball or tennis workouts in the Workout app on Apple Watch.
Photo: Apple

The study also found evidence that pickleball and tennis players both experience less depressed mood than the average participant in the overall study, suggesting physical activity’s positive affect 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 VP 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,” she added.

And you better believe Big Pickleball is excited about Apple’s findings.

“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.”

Apple’s pickleball tips for Apple Watch users:

  • 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.

And for some reason, pickleball is super-popular in Utah. Read more about the study.



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