Research has found playing football can reduce blood pressure
Playing football is more effective than drugs because of the range of movements, such as twists and turns, that it involves, say scientists.
It also protects against the development of type 2 diabetes and brittle bone disease, or osteoporosis – a condition that is especially prevalent among females.
The health benefits of the sport have previously been shown just in men, but this is the first time they have also been found to apply to women.
It is the culmination of a decade long Danish programme called Football Fitness that has established the world’s most popular sport goes beyond entertainment – helping combat a host of lifestyle diseases.
They enjoyed the training and the attendance levels were high
Professor Peter Krustrup, head of the sport and health sciences research unit at the University of Southern Denmark, said: “After 10 years of research, the evidence is now sufficiently strong to state that football is medicine.
“Football is broad-spectrum medicine for patients with hypertension, type 2 diabetes and other lifestyle diseases.”
He added that it was “a 4-0 health victory for Football Fitness, with the ball hitting every corner of the net”.
About 16 million people in the UK have high blood pressure – a staggering 30 per cent of women and 32 per cent of men.
They are three times more likely to develop heart disease and stroke and twice as likely to die from these as those with normal blood pressure.
The trial of 35 to 50 year old women with mildly high blood pressure found those selected at random to take part in an hour of football training two to three times a week were much healthier after a year than the inactive group.
There were dramatic improvements in their hypertension, or high blood pressure, and they also had much less body. Meanwhile, they had stronger bones and levels of physical fitness than those who had not played the game.
Professor Krustrup said: “Our study shows that untrained women with high blood pressure benefit greatly from Football Fitness in respect of blood pressure, body fat percentage, bone density and physical fitness.
“This form of football can rightly be described as effective and broad-spectrum medicine for women with high blood pressure.”
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He said the results of the project, backed by 14 years of research, show football can be used for effective prevention and treatment of a number of illnesses linked to unhealthy lifestyles, including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
They also support growing evidence physical activity can lead to wider protection agaainst strokes and heart attacks than traditional drugs.
Professor Krustrup said: “Football Fitness training comprises high-pulse training, stamina training and strength training, which explains why the women derived such significant and broad-spectrum effects on physical fitness and health by playing football for a year. What is more, they enjoyed the training and the attendance levels were high.”
It is well known that exercise, such as endurance running and high intensity interval training (HIIT), can ward off hypertension, diabetes and osteoporosis. But less information has been available about the role of specific sports as training for patients.
So Professor Krustrup and colleagues recruited 31 untrained female participants from the Faroe Islands, of whom 19 were given the Football Fitness training, with them undergoing an average of 128 sessions over the course of 12 months.
About 16 million people in the UK have high blood pressure
Their blood pressure was reduced by 9 mmHg, about the same as would be achieved by medication, and body fat mass by almost half a stone (3.1 kg).
Levels of triglyceride, a type of fat or ‘lipid’ in the blood, were also lowered by 0.3 mmol/l. There was also significant improvement in bone density while they did more than twice as well in fitness tests (120 peer cent) than the 12 others.
The findings were published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, along with a ‘meta analysis’ by the same team reported in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
This pooled data from 31 earlier scientific studies and found 3 to 6 months of one hour football training twice a week boosted the lungs and heart and reduced fat and cholesterol in untrained men and women aged 18 to 75 years.
It also lowered blood pressure by 11/7 mmHg for 30 to 70 year old patients with mild-to-moderate hypertension.
Professor Krustrup said: “The results from our meta-analysis clearly emphasise football training is an intense, effective and versatile type of training that combines HIIT-training, endurance training and strength training.
“The most prominent results are that short-term football training is as effective as drugs against high blood pressure and as effective as HIIT-training in terms of increasing aerobic fitness.
“Together these effects lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases by more than 50% and may considerably lower the risk of death.
“In addition, there are multiple positive effects on body composition and lipid profile, making football a very attractive type of broad-spectrum non-pharmacological intervention against lifestyle diseases.”
His team recommends small-sided football training rather than competitive 11 a side matches as players are up to 12 times less likely to get injured.
This is a type of football that can be played by all regardless of age
Football Fitness comprises a thorough warm-up including strength, balance and dribbling exercises, followed by drills and five a side games on small pitches.
This is a type of football that can be played by all regardless of age, gender, level of football experience and physical fitness.
Worldwide an estimated 500 million people play football on a regular basis, of which 300 million are registered football club members.
The results were due to be presented at the first international “Football is Medicine” conference in Lisbon, Portugal.