For a lot of people structured exercise can be boring, tedious and repetitive. Going to the gym or running doesn’t appeal to many. However engagement in team sports is hugely popular for numerous reasons and suggestions have been made that sports, such as football, demonstrate significant health benefits. The enjoyment and publicity of the World Cup has inspired everyone (or at least had until England bowed out!). So why is this of such benefit to worldwide health and wellbeing? Can football be used as a potential solution to many of our increasing health concerns?
A recent review in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports (Bangsbo et al, 2014) looked into current published literature on the effects of regular participation in football and presented extremely positive results.
Irrespective of team number, focusing primarily on small sided games, participants are shown to reach heart rates of between 80-90% maximum in all age groups from 9-70+ years of age creating a significant anaerobic training stimulus. The high intensity intermittent nature of the game was also shown to greatly improve cardiac function including parameters such as stroke volume (how much blood the heart pump per beat) due to numerous factors including strengthening of the cardiac muscle.
Engaging in football twice weekly for an hour has also been shown to significantly reduce blood pressure in hypertensive individuals and regular training has also been demonstrated to improve blood lipid profiles, reducing LDL cholesterol and triglycerides.
Regular engagement also demonstrates an improvement in muscle mass and reduction in fat mass which correlates to reduced mortality rate and greater quality of life in all populations. Bone mineral density is also improved when playing football on a regular basis potentially reducing risk of osteoporotic fracture.
Regular engagement in football, irrespective of the number of players, age or health status of the participants, provides solution for numerous long term conditions which are increasing in prevalence. Ageing populations have the ability to maintain muscle mass and improve bone mineral density, obese populations can reduce fat mass, hypertensive individuals have the ability to reduce blood pressure and those at risk of cardiovascular disease have the ability to improve blood lipid profiles and improve their cardiac function. It may also have the ability to improve mood in those diagnosed with psychological conditions such as depression. Not forgetting that football has the ability to unite communities and provides great opportunity for social engagement and allows individuals to develop relationships.
Based on the above it really is no wonder that football is the most popular game in the world. Be warned though, talking from personal experience, being an avid England supporter is likely to lead to lowered mood, mood swings and periods of aggression!
As with any activity, be sure to check with your doctor before participating in football. The high intensity nature of the game may increase risk of health events especially in those diagnosed with long term conditions.
Jack Barton (Researcher, Rescon Ltd)
Bangsbo, J., Junge, A., Dvorak, J., & Krustrup, P. (2014). Executive summary: Football for health–prevention and treatment of non‐communicable diseases across the lifespan through football. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 24(S1), 147-150.