A just published research experiment on inactive men with high blood pressure shows that just 3 months of soccer practise twice a week causes a significant fall in blood pressure, resting pulse rate, and percentage of body fat, and is more effective than the doctor's usual advice on healthy diet and exercise.
Other parallel experiments on both women and men further demonstrates that a regular game of soccer affects numerous cardiovascular risk factors such as maximal oxygen uptake, heart function, elasticity of the vascular system, blood pressure, cholesterol and fat mass far more than e.g. strength training and just as much if not more than running.
Each of the experiments was controlled randomized studies where the soccer groups were compared to other exercise groups and inactive controls. The soccer experiments are part of a large-scale research project on soccer and health carried out at the University of Copenhagen, four Danish University Hospitals, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology and the Schulthess Clinic in Zurich.
Project Leader and Associate Professor at the University of Copenhagen Peter Krustrup recaps the results: "Our research shows that soccer is a versatile and intense form of exercise that provides a positive effect on cardiovascular risk factors in a large group of untrained adult men and women," and continues: "Based on the results, soccer can be recommended as part of the treatment for high blood pressure and as broad-spectred prevention of cardiovascular diseases."
Small games, big gains
When untrained children, teens, adults and older people play soccer, their pulse rate remains high and they perform multiple intense actions like sprints, turns, kicks and tackles. "Our analyses also showed that the pulse rate and activity profile is the same in small-sided games where only 4, 6, 8 or 14 people play. In other words, it is very easy to obtain a combination of cardio and strength training with soccer," concludes Krustrup
Research partner Lars Juel Andersen from the Clinic of Sport Cardiology at Gentofte Hospital, Denmark, believes that the results are good news for the millions of people worldwide, suffering from high blood pressure: "It is well known that physical inactivity is a substantial risk factor in developing cardiovascular diseases in itself, but it is new that a pleasurable team sport like soccer is effective in treating high blood pressure." Furthermore, associate professor Peter Riis Hansen from Gentofte Hospital suggests that football may have other favourable effects on the vascular system, namely a reduction of arterial stiffness, which has been associated with improved cardiovascular outcomes.
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