Health Gains for Grown Up Soccer Players

Health Gains for Grown Up Soccer Players

Being a soccer mom usually means carpooling kids to games and watching them play. But new research shows that women who join in the fun and kick around a soccer ball can dramatically improve their bone and heart health.

Researchers in Denmark recruited more than 70 women ages 20 to 47 who had no history of playing soccer as children or teenagers. Two-thirds of the women were randomly assigned to either a running group or a soccer team. The rest served as a control group.

For 14 weeks, the women in the active groups exercised by running or playing soccer for an hour a day just two days a week.

At the end of the study period, women in both exercise groups had improved on a number of indicators of heart health, balance and muscle strength, compared with the control group. However, the gains were greater among the women who had played soccer instead of running.

For instance, runners improved their maximum oxygen uptake, an indicator of cardiovascular fitness, by about 10 percent. But the soccer players improved by 15 percent.

And playing soccer not only led to better balance and improved muscle strength, but the sport also increased a woman’s bone mineral density by an average of 2 to 3 percent. Given that after age 40 women lose bone mass at the rate of about .5 to 1 percent a year, the gains from soccer are equivalent to reversing three to six years of bone aging, according to the report published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports.

Why was soccer so much better for a woman’s bones and heart? Peter Krustrup, associate professor of exercise physiology at the University of Copenhagen, said that soccer gave women a more diverse workout than running.

“We analyzed the activity patterns during soccer, and we observed multiple sprints, turns, tackles, headers and shots on goal,” he said.  The researchers speculate that the varied activity patterns were more stimulating to bones than simply jogging or running at a steady pace.

Other studies conducted by Dr. Krustrup and colleagues have shown similar heart and bone benefits in male soccer players. One study looked at muscle function and balance in a group of 65- to 75-year-old men who played recreational soccer most of their lives. In a one-leg balance test, the older soccer players performed just as well as 30-year-old men. Older men who weren’t trained in soccer had twice as many falls during the balance test as their soccer-playing peers.

While many people associate soccer with broken bones and muscle injuries, the injury risk among the recreational soccer players studied was low. Although the women kept score and were competitive when they played, the intensity level of the game was far lower than in games played in high school, college or sports clubs.

“When you play soccer in the park or among friends, the injury risk is much much lower than if you play competitive games with local rivals from another club,” Dr. Krustrup said.

Dr. Krustrup said that although many adults think their only exercise options are jogging or joining a gym, the study shows the value of recreational team sports.

“We know a lot about strength training, running and cycling because those sports are very easy to study in the laboratory,” Dr. Krustrup said. “But so many people all over the world play soccer, basketball or hockey. It’s very important to understand the health benefits of those sports and to emphasize that there are motivational and social factors related to team sports that may enhance the possibility for lifelong adherence to a physically active lifestyle.”

Article posted from http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/03/04/health-gains-for-grownup-soccer-players/

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