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The badminton way to smash stress, gain good health

An increasing number of youngsters in India are taking to badminton as a low-maintenance way to get fit and stay active

A heightened focus on the shuttlecock can be viewed as active meditation where your mind is free from distractions.
A heightened focus on the shuttlecock can be viewed as active meditation where your mind is free from distractions. (Unsplash/Muktasim Azlan)

In the past couple of years, there has been a notable rise in the popularity of racket sports in the country. While tennis and pickleball particularly have garnered attention, badminton too is joining the ranks with more people adopting it from a fitness perspective. Pinterest’s 2024 predictions highlight a surge in search terms related to badminton including ‘badminton outfit’, ‘playing badminton’, and even ‘badminton trash talk’. Key search terms on the image-sharing platform have witnessed significant growth, with an 80% increase in searches for badminton rackets, 105% for badminton bags, and 50% for badminton shoes. 

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According to Google Trends, searches for ‘badminton’ have shown a steady increase since the outbreak of covid-19 four years ago. “Badminton provides a full-body workout that engages multiple muscle groups. The fast-paced nature of the game demands quick reflexes, agility, and cardiovascular endurance. Players constantly move around the court, making rapid directional changes, lunging, and jumping to reach the shuttlecock, which not only enhances their physical strength and stamina but also improves their overall coordination and balance,” says Dr. Sudhindra Vooturi, physiotherapist at KIMS hospital, Hyderabad.

He adds that badminton is known to be an excellent calorie-burning activity. As Vooturi points out, a vigorous game of badminton can help individuals burn calories and maintain healthy weight. “This aspect of the sport contributes to its appeal among those who prioritise fitness and weight management as part of their lifestyle,” Vooturi says. 

A 2016 study by researchers from the University of Twickenham London titled, The Impact Of Badminton On Health Markers In Untrained Females, showed improved cardiac function in adult women following eight weeks of practice. The results also showed a decrease in heart rate (HR), both at rest and during submaximal running. There are other studies that have demonstrated benefits of badminton on respiratory capacity where playing the sport produced an increase in aerobic fitness and capacity (VO2max) in adults, adolescents and children.

The sport also promoted better functional physical fitness and self-perceived functional health in the elderly, according to the study. Further outcomes included higher high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels, associated with a reduced likelihood of coronary heart disease in adults, elderly men and women. 

Olympian and former Commonwealth Games champion Parupalli Kashyap says, “Badminton poses a significant technical challenge to players. Mastering the technique to strike the shuttlecock not only provides an effective cardiovascular workout, it also introduces a dynamic element, deviating from the monotony of steady-state cardio.” For Kashyap, engaging in the physically demanding sport contributes to one’s overall well-being, promoting a sense of freshness and happiness throughout the day. The added joy of friendly competition with colleagues or friends further enhances the enjoyment of playing badminton, he says. 

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A Calming Rhythm 
“Badminton, for me, is more than just a sport, it’s a comprehensive approach to nurturing well-being. The constant need for strategic thinking on the court sharpens my mental focus and fosters a holistic sense of wellness,” says Prashant Upadhyaya, former national player and current badminton coach at Balaji Badminton Academy in Indore. The sport’s accessibility and low maintenance requirements are other reasons for its popularity. 

“Unlike other sports that may require extensive gear or specific playing fields, all you need to play badminton is a shuttlecock, a racket, and a reasonably- sized space. This simplicity not only makes it convenient but also inclusive and approachable for individuals of all ages and backgrounds,” Upadhyaya says. As for why he enjoys playing the sport, Upadhyaya says that playing helps him relax. “There’s a calming rhythm to hitting the shuttlecock back and forth that relieves stress and makes me feel mentally good. The friendly matches and the fun of playing together create a strong sense of community too.”

Mental Health Boost
Regular engagement in badminton has been proven to significantly reduce depressive symptoms in young individuals with intellectual disabilities. A 2014 paper by researcher Wen-li Zhao and team, Physical Education Affecting On Cognition And Emotion, studied 60 female non-athletic junior university students in China. The study showed a notable decrease in both depression and anxiety, coupled with improved self-esteem after a 20-week aerobic badminton exercise regimen.

Citing another 2018 study in China, Dr. Shradha Malik, CEO and founder of Athena Behavioral Health, Gurugram, says, “Whilst comparing an open-skill exercise (such as badminton) with a closed-skill exercise (like running) in young males, it was found that participation in badminton led to elevated levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factors. This increase correlated with enhanced task switching performance, ultimately improving executive functions.” These cognitive improvements, Malik says, translated into heightened alertness and concentration, showcasing the comprehensive mental health benefits associated with regular badminton participation. 

Like other racket sports, heightened focus can serve as a form of active meditation. “The strategic thinking involved in anticipating the shuttlecock’s movement and planning your shots fosters cognitive engagement. This mental stimulation can enhance cognitive flexibility and problem-solving skills. In essence, the act of focusing on the white shuttlecock in badminton not only elevates your performance in the game but also serves as a mindful practice, promoting mental clarity and cognitive benefits,” says Dr. T.R. John, a senior consultant in psychiatry at Aster Medcity in Kochi. 

Easy Accessibility
Grassroots initiatives including sports academies and local clubs have played a role in promoting the sport by offering accessible platforms for aspiring players. Simultaneously, the rise of professional leagues like the Premier Badminton League have cultivated a fan base that transcends regional boundaries. 

“As young individuals prioritise active living, sports like badminton are an ideal option,” says Delhi-based marketing expert Ashok Kumar. What also helps is the relative affordability of badminton gear including high-quality rackets, shuttlecocks and clothes. “This affordability enhances the overall allure of badminton and encourages more young individuals to engage in the sport,” Kumar observes. 

Tanisha Saxena is a Delhi-based independent journalist. She writes stories that are on the intersection of art, culture and lifestyle.

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