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Soccer research projects now targeting lifestyle diseases

The weight of research points to football (soccer) being better than other sports, and medicine, in the battle against lifestyle diseases. Soccer science projects expanding after more UCPH proof of the game's health advantages

It is well known that sport has a positive effect on humans’ fitness and well-being. But Professor Peter Krustrup and his team from Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports at the University of Copenhagen are pioneers in analysing the specific fitness and health effects of football. According to them playing football (soccer) has an especially huge impact on humans’ fitness.

The research project ‘Football for Health’ at the Copenhagen Centre for Team Sport and Health analyses the health effects of football training for children, unfit adults, older men and women, homeless people and patient groups with high blood pressure, type II diabetes and prostate cancer.

“One of our studies shows that a 70-year-old man who plays football has a postural balance and rapid muscle force that is comparable to that of a 30-year-old untrained man,” says Krustrup. “This does not only illustrate, that physical activity is for all age groups, but should also be a wake-up call for the untrained.”

Effective ‘all-in-one’ training

Peter Krustrup and his research team have been researching football for more than 20 years, looking into different groups doing different activities and the specific effects of different types of activities and have found out that football, unlike jogging for example, has a positive impact on all areas of fitness and is therefore an effective all-in-one type of training.

Professor Peter Krustrup: “Football is an easy solution to improve your health. All you need is a ball and two goals. The effects are rapid and marked in relation to health profile and well-being”

Elevated heart rates while playing football ensured training for aerobic fitness and reduced blood pressure to the same extent as blood pressure medicine. But simultaneously, muscle mass is increased and players’ bones are strengthened through ongoing sprints, decelerations, shots and tackles with bone impact. Thirdly football is also a good metabolic training, as all energy systems and muscle fibers are in use.

“Football is an easy solution to improve your health. All you need is a ball and two goals. The effects are rapid and marked in relation to health profile and well-being”, explains Peter Krustrup. “After 12 weeks only we can already see significant improvements of the fitness.”

Implementation of research started

One of the exercise concepts, called ‘Football Fitness’, is meant to make inactive people physically active and help to prevent and treat lifestyle diseases. Football Fitness is training on small pitches, with few players, not involving matches but focussing on fun and social interaction.

Over 200 clubs in Denmark are already offering Football Fitness, and when the concept was recently introduced in the Faroe Islands more than five per cent of the Faroese women participated actively in the program. There are plans to expand the project to many other countries worldwide within the next years in collaboration with the Danish FA, UEFA and FIFA.

“The success rate of Football Fitness is very high, because it is made for everyone. Nobody has to worry that he or she is not good enough, because it is not focused on competitions.” Peter Krustrup sees a great future potential for the project: “We are now using the efforts and findings we have until now for other exercise concepts, such as Handball Fitness, and other target groups, like other types of cancer.”

An overview and more details of all projects at Copenhagen Centre for Team Sport and Health here. More details in the fact box.

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