Are you addicted to pickleball?
Ernie Medina Jr. is a treasured “pickleball friend.” Besides loving pickleball, both Ernie and I are on a crusade to educate pickleball players on how to live longer, healthier lives. When Ernie visited Tahoe this past summer, it was the perfect time to discuss the running joke we hear about “pickleball addiction.”
You may be joking when you say it, but Ernie and one of his doctoral students weren’t. Pickleball is so much fun that many people spend too much time on the courts and ignore warning signs that can lead to injury or ill-health.
What can you do to play better pickleball? Ernie shares five key points from the Blue Zones.
Question: Some of you may know Ernie from Aspen Kern’s Pickleball Forum on Facebook, where he is a top contributor. Ernie, when you’re not on the Facebook forum, and you’re not playing pickleball, what’s your day job?
Answer: Well, I do actually work! I’m not retired as a lot of people think. I’m currently an Assistant Professor at Loma Linda University. But before that, I was working in a medical group. I worked with people, trying to help them to lose weight, control their diabetes, quit smoking, and deal with stress.
Question: Ernie, we’re joking about pickleball addiction, but there is a reason that we picked this subject. Please tell us a little more about that.
Answer: When I started playing pickleball about three years ago, I kept hearing the word addiction. I’m addicted to pickleball; I’m addicted to pickleball. When you take something good for you, and you do too much of it, it can be harmful to yourself. We wanted to take a look at that and see are we too addicted to pickleball that it could be harmful to our health.
Question: Ernie, how do we know when our pickleball addiction has crossed the line?
Answer: When you do something too much, your life gets out of balance, and there will be other areas in your life that are going to start suffering from that. We need to pay attention to some of those other areas in our life.
Where I come from in Loma Linda, we are one of the Blue Zones. If you don’t know what the Blue Zones are, these are five areas in the world that researchers have found where people live longer than the average person, about ten years longer. They’ve studied these different populations and found that there are key characteristics in a holistic lifestyle that can be beneficial for your health quality, and longevity.
Question: Okay. Ernie, I’ll bite. What are the five key points?
Answer: Pickleball actually covers two of those very well. The social and the family. We all know that it is a very good inter-generational sport. It also covers socialization, one of the things that attract us to pickleball.
Question: Ernie, what’s another point from the Blue Zones that can help us?
Answer: We started talking about exercise addiction. We love pickleball, so we play it a lot, six, seven days a week for some people. But we need to look at balance. We need to think about things that we can do outside of pickleball. And one of the things I recommend is cross-training. Start doing some type of strength or weight training because that can help you in your pickleball, but that will also help balance out your life for other activities.
I recommend people either do some simple calisthenics or simple weights. If you don’t know how to do those kinds of exercises, I highly recommend going to a personal trainer. Finding one either at your health club or at a Y and make sure they’re certified. I’m with the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) or ACE, or there are others out there, but make sure they’re certified.
Sometimes they could even be certified for working with the older population. And if you can find that, it would be perfect.
Question: Instead of playing pickleball seven days a week, maybe play pickleball five days a week, right?
Answer: Yes, do a little something off the court to take care of yourself. You only have to weight train two or three days a week. We’re not talking about becoming a bodybuilder. That’s what a lot of people are afraid of with weight training. But no, we’re not talking about that. You can do a simple program within 20-30 minutes, and that’s it. Just a couple of days off the court can pay big dividends on the court.
Question: Ernie, we’ve been talking about weight training, and that’s going to segue perfectly to one of the next points on the Blue Zone list, rest.
Answer: Rest is critical in all of the five Blue Zones. We are talking about not just rest in between weight training but also rest from the pickleball court. I know that might be sound sacrilegious, but we need a break from pickleball because that’s going to help overall balance. If you know you’re getting addictive, then you might be playing too much pickleball. You need a rest from pickleball, a rest from everyday life, and sleep. Sleep is important. Getting your seven hours is essential for both your pickleball play on the court and your life off the court.
Question: Ernie, what’s one of the warning signs of a pickleball addiction and that we need some rest?
Answer: That’s a good question, CJ. If your body is trying to tell you something, whether it’s a nagging injury that’s not healing up or some ache and pain that is not part of the normal aging process, that’s usually a warning sign that you’re overdoing it.
You might be a little too addictive in your workout or your play. Listen to your body, and that will tell you when you need to take a break and take a rest.
Question: Okay, Ernie, what’s point number five?
Answer: No surprise here, diet. What we eat is a key factor in all of the Blue Zones.
Question: Ernie, we could talk about diet for a long time. Can you give us just a couple of recommendations on how, as pickleball players, we can get healthier bodies and have a healthier diet?
Answer: There are all kinds of diets that are out there, but one thing I like to tell people is to keep it very simple, watch for refined sugar and trans fat or hydrogenated fat. The easy way to do that is looking at a label and if you look at the first five ingredients and see the word sugar or something that ends in O S E, OSE. Or if you see trans fat or hydrogenated fat in the first five ingredients. You probably shouldn’t be eating that on a regular basis. I would try to limit those or cut those out of my diet.
Question: Is there anything else that we can do for our diet?
Answer: Besides avoiding trans fat and refined sugars is to focus on eating more of a plant-based unprocessed diet, more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, and lean meats (white meat and fish) if you do eat meat.
CJ, there’s one more thing I’ve got to tell you about diet. That is to drink plenty of water. You know when you’re playing on the pickleball court, you’re sweating, and so you need to be drinking plenty of water. We recommend eight to ten glasses daily, but if you sweat a lot, then you’d probably need to be drinking more than that.
There are five key lessons we can take from Blue Zone’s research to help us play Better Pickleball.
- Social Interaction
Pickleball is fun, which makes a pickleball addiction real for some people. Overdoing it can lead to disastrous results, and no one wants to spend time away from the courts. Significant changes come from small habits. If you’re going to play better, pick one of these points, and make one small change starting TODAY!
Hey there — I’m a professional three-sport athlete and coach who has spent my entire adult life earning a living from playing and coaching sports. Since I started coaching more than three decades ago, one thing has remained the same: My commitment to see students not as they are but as what they can become and to move heaven and earth to help them realize their untapped potential. You should know that when it comes to helping pickleball players over 50 live their best lives on and off the courts, I'm an expert. Good pickleball is not just technique; it's the mind and body working holistically. That's why I'm also a personal trainer and weight management specialist. When I’m chillin', you'll find me watching Star Trek with my husband John and our two fur babies, Shirley and Ralph. (Yes, Happy Days)