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Is Bowling Good Exercise? The Truth on Bowling’s Health Benefits

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Bowling is one of America’s most beloved pastimes, with over 70 million people heading to the lanes every year.

The sport’s popularity spans generations and appeals to both serious competitive bowlers as well as those just looking for casual fun.

But when it comes to fitness, is bowling actually good exercise? Can time spent bowling contribute to cardio health, muscle gain, weight loss, and other exercise goals?

While sending balls crashing into pins is certainly more active than sitting on the couch, bowling might not exactly be equivalent to a hardcore gym session. The truth on bowling’s efficacy as exercise depends on a few key factors.

Is Bowling Cardiovascular Exercise?

Most physical activities, including sports, are considered good exercise if they consistently raise your heart rate for an extended period. This cardiovascular challenge is key for conditioning the heart muscle and improving fitness.

Bowling does require moderate physical exertion, including walking, swinging a ball that could range from 6 to 16 pounds, bending, and repeating moves. This can definitely elevate your heart rate.

One study by the University of Florida analyzing calorie expenditure during bowling found that:

  • Bowling raised participants’ heart rates to an average 120 beats per minute (about 64% max heart rate)
  • Peak heart rate reached 147 bpm (about 80% max rate)

While these averages are well above resting rates, they still fall short of peak cardio intervals like running, swimming, or competitive sports, which often aim for 85-90% of maximum heart rate for optimal cardio training effects.

So while the stop-start nature of bowling and its short bursts of activity provide some cardio stimulus, it likely doesn’t sustain intensity long enough per session to qualify bowling alone as a complete cardiovascular workout. Supplemental cardio training would be required to build endurance.

Muscle Groups and Weight Loss

While bowling may not be an efficient form of pure cardio, its benefit lies more in engaging a variety of muscle groups. The movements required in bowling call on:

  • Arms – Lifting and swinging the ball tones biceps, triceps, shoulders
  • Back and Core – A full back swing uses erector spinae while release engages abdominals
  • Legs – Steps of approach activate glutes, quads, hamstrings

This well-rounded muscle activation makes bowling a solid cross-training addition to strengthen and define the upper and lower body when done regularly.

In the University of Florida study, participants burned an average of 300 calories per hour of bowling. While not extremely high, extending bowling sessions or increasing frequency can contribute to weight loss goals over time as part of a comprehensive fitness routine.

One 2013 study had overweight teenagers exercise by bowling for 30-60 minutes per session, 3 times a week. Participants lost an average 3 pounds and reduced BMI by the end of the 6 month bowling program alongside nutrition guidance.

While more research is needed, evidence indicates bowling can burn upwards of 8 calories per minute, making weight loss attainable with disciplined training duration of 60+ minutes per session at least 3 times weekly alongside proper diet adjustments.

Bowling Intensity and Duration

The stop-start nature of bowling raises an interesting question around intensity. Much of bowling is spent waiting between turns rather than constantly active. Does this downtime counteract its qualifications as “good exercise?”

Study data suggests that while heart rate drops between throws, it remains elevated above resting rates:

  • Average heart rate while waiting: 92 bpm or about 50% max rate
  • Spikes back up during approach and throw: 120-147 bpm

So bowling appears to achieve moderate-intensity activity when analyzing the entire session duration. While waiting heart rate could be improved, bowling remains active enough to avoid being classified as “sedentary”.

For more significant fitness gains, experts often recommend sustained bouts of 20-90+ minutes of exercise at 60-90% max intensity.

Bowling alone may fall slightly short of hitting these high-intensity CV interval targets during a typical 1-2 hour match.

However, competitive or avid recreational bowlers regularly bowling 2-3 hours at a clip, 3 times per week or more, can potentially meet weekly exercise minutes guidelines through the sport alone.

For more casual bowlers focused on fitness, strategically sustaining activity for longer durations can better position bowling as an effective workout.

Bowling Compared to Other Sports

Contextualizing bowling’s fitness efficacy requires comparing its effects to other sports frequently associated with good exercise.

In terms of calories burned by activity, bowling clocks in at about 8 calories per minute. How does this compare?

  • Running: 15 calories per minute
  • Swimming (moderate effort): 14 calories per minute
  • Basketball: 10 calories per minute

Bowling doesn’t quite match the calorie burns of higher intensity sports, but does edge out lower-impact activities. For example, walking or light cycling burns around just 4-5 calories per minute.

Examining muscle activation also gives perspective:

  • Tennis works the arms, core, and leg muscles with constant movement
  • Baseball/softball involve fielding, batting, running – great for mobility
  • Crossfit constantly switches muscle groups worked at high intensity

While no match to intensive singles sports or a well-designed crossfit workout, bowling does engage all muscle groups moderately using both upper and lower body.

Other low-impact activities like biking, walking, or even golf work muscle groups in a more isolated, less comprehensive manner.

Finally, an underrated contribution bowling provides towards a fitness routine lies in enjoyment, social stimulation, and long-term adherence.

The sport’s recreational pleasures and UV exposure were found to boost participant mood in the 2013 study mentioned earlier.

In fitness, consistency over years trumps short intense bursts. So even if bowling doesn’t quite match other exercise methods hour-for-hour, its longevity appeals means it contributes heavily overtime as an easy “fitness enhancer” built into weekly life.

Enhancing Bowling as Exercise

If seeking to maximize bowling’s exercise efficacy, strategically enhancing the sport’s intensity in key ways can better align it with strength training and cardio goals:

Technique Tweaks

Tweaking bowling form engages more muscles:

  • Lower into a deeper slide knee bend to work quads and glutes
  • Extend arm backswing fully to target shoulders and upper back
  • Use wrist strength to add speed/power at release

Cross Training Additions

  • Combine weight lifting into training splits to build muscle
  • Add short sprint intervals between throws to sustain cardio
  • Perform bodyweight planks/pushups during downtime to work abs, chest

Advanced Bowling Fitness Regimens

Those committed to bowling fitness can follow periodized programs to maximize gains through variation. For example:

  • Mesocycle 1: Skill focus – high volume bowling sessions
  • Mesocycle 2: Strength focus – bowling + heavy weights
  • Mesocycle 3: Power focus – sprints + med weights + high intensity bowling sets

Following a properly planned progressive training program can elicit strength increases comparable or beyond some gym workouts.

The Verdict: Effective as Supplemental Exercise

Analyzing the overall data, while bowling can raise heart rates and engage all muscle groups to some degree, its low-intensity intermittent nature may fall just short of qualifying it as a sufficient standalone fitness regimen.

However, the sport checks several boxes that demonstrate its effectiveness once incorporated into a thoughtfully designed training program alongside other workouts.

In particular, bowling contributes to goals of building balanced muscular endurance, motor skill development, weight loss through caloric expenditure, and lifelong adherence – extremely valuable supplemental attributes.

So while diehard bowlers may boast of the sport’s demanding physicality, bowling likely works best as cross-training element integrated with cardio training and strength routines to form a comprehensive fitness solution.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can bowling be considered a workout?

Bowling can be considered a moderate workout that engages multiple muscle groups, raises heart rate, and burns calories. While it may not replace high-intensity cardio and strength training, bowling does qualify as a legitimate form of physical activity.

Can I lose weight by bowling?

You can lose weight by bowling through burning calories during long, frequent bowling sessions. A 180 pound person burns around 300 calories per hour of bowling. Losing 1 pound requires burning 3,500 calories, so sustained bowling activity combined with proper nutrition can contribute to weight loss goals over time.

Why is it important to play bowling?

It’s important to play bowling for physical activity as well as mental stimulation and stress relief. As a moderate workout, bowling builds balanced fitness, hand-eye coordination, and motor skills while providing mood-boosting social connection. Lifelong bowling supports long term health.

Does bowling keep you fit?

Bowling alone may not be enough exercise to stay extremely fit, but it can help maintain a baseline level of fitness. As a cross-training element alongside strength and cardio, bowling keeps various muscles groups strong while building fitness habits that support long term adherence.

Can bowling make you stronger?

Bowling can make you moderately stronger over time by incorporating strength techniques: lowering into deeper knee bends engages leg muscles more while using wrist power and fully extending backswings activates arm and upper body strength gains.

Why is my body sore after bowling?

Bowling uses muscles —such as shoulders, wrists, knees, and the core—that may not activate during regular daily motions. This stresses the body in new ways that manifest in soreness as the muscles adapt through recovery. It indicates the body is growing stronger.

Does bowling burn belly fat?

Bowling alone won’t specifically target belly fat, but the core engagement, aerobic activity, and potential calorie deficit from sustained bowling can contribute to overall fat and weight reduction over time. More targeted core workouts in addition to bowling best burn abdominal fat.

How many times a week should you practice bowling?

To gain bowling skills, 3 scheduled practice sessions per week for at least 60-90 minutes builds consistency. For general health, bowling just 30 minutes a day, 2-3 days a week elevates heart rate sufficiently alongside other exercise. Competitive bowlers practice much more.

How do you keep your body straight when bowling?

Keeping shoulders, hips, and feet aligned transverse to the foul line when entering your slide keeps body positioning straight and balanced through the swing and release. This allows maximal power transfer for strikes.