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Football and health
Why football is good for you
It is well documented that regular physical activity promotes health: research suggests that exercise reduces the risk of certain chronic diseases and promotes longevity. To reap the benefits of exercise, guidelines suggest that you should exercise for 20-30 minutes, three to five times per week.1 Playing football two or three times a week will help you to reach these levels, and will provide you with a number of health benefits (listed below).
Football can reduce your risk of heart disease
Playing football on a regular basis could reduce your risk of coronary heart disease. Several studies have found that people who do not exercise at all were at a significantly higher risk of heart attack than all other people, and the risk decreased significantly with increasing activity.2,3 Because of this, the greatest benefits were experienced by those who did moderate to vigorous activities, like football. These individuals had greater than 50 per cent reduction in the risk of heart attack compared with people who were inactive.
The good news is that the benefits of regularly playing football will occur regardless of whether you smoke, drink or eat the wrong foods. The studies found that the effects of physical activity on heart attack risk were not affected by other cardiovascular risk factors.
Playing football when you're young can lower the risk of osteoporosis
At the moment, there are a few treatments for osteoporosis but no cure, so methods to prevent the disease are vital.4 Fortunately for most people, osteoporosis can be prevented by eating the right nutrients and taking part in the right kind of exercise.
Studies have shown that participating in weight-bearing exercise, for example playing football, is important in building up and maintaining strong, healthy bones. And it has been found that people who take part in regular weight-bearing exercise in childhood and adolescence are less likely to develop osteoporosis in later life.5
Football can help with weight loss
Exercise is an important factor in weight loss. Following a balanced diet is important, but it will never be completely effective by itself. By playing football and becoming fit, losing fat will be easier.
Exercise helps the body lose fat in two main ways:
- increases metabolism. During a game of football you will be burning off fat, and you will continue to burn an increased amount of calories after the game because exercise increases your metabolic rate by 10 per cent for approximately 48 hours after exercise.6 This residual effect of playing football plays a useful role in burning calories and helping with weight loss
- increases fat-burning enzymes. As you run around while playing football you are using your muscles which, in turn, will be burning fat. Muscles contain specific enzymes which burn only fat, and research has shown that people who exercise regularly have more fat-burning enzymes in their muscles than people who don't exercise.4 Increasing your activity level by playing football will increase the number of fat-burning enzymes in your muscles and make your body more efficient at burning fat.
Football builds muscle strength
Playing football requires you to use your muscles, especially the muscles in your legs. Regularly exercising your muscles will allow you to maintain or even increase your muscle mass. Without regular exercise, muscle mass is diminished along with muscle strength. There are several benefits to maintaining muscle mass and strength including:
- increased ability to burn fat both at rest and while exercising
- a reduced risk of falls7 and increased mobility in later life (particularly useful to avoid unwanted fractures due to osteoporosis).6
One study suggests that two sessions of exercise per week can increase the strength of the muscles used by as much as 30 per cent.7
Football can improve your mood and self-esteem and lower stress levels
Football can have positive effects on our mental health as well as physical health. Regular exercise has been shown to lower perceived stress and improve mood and self-esteem. One study found that regular exercise reduced chronic stress, life event stress and work stress.8 And these benefits have been found in both adults and adolescents.9
Being in a team can keep you motivated
When you begin an exercise programme your motivation may be high, but as time goes on it can be difficult to maintain this routine. Playing a team sport like football is an excellent way to stay motivated as there are other people there to support you and keep you going.
Who can play football?
All people can play football regardless of their age and fitness level. Due to the popularity of football, there is a huge number of football clubs throughout the UK - ranging from local amateur clubs to professional clubs. This number and variety of clubs provide many opportunities to play - no matter what your playing ability or level of fitness.
For safety purposes, people with known heart disease, or other conditions that can affect their activity levels, and people who have not exercised regularly for several years should consult their doctor before starting to play football.
The popularity of football in the younger age groups, and the number of teams organised specifically for children make it good for encouraging children to exercise. Encouraging children to exercise is especially important, as combating diseases such as obesity and coronary heart disease are lifelong processes that are best started in childhood.10 Being overweight or obese in childhood is increasing in the UK, and encouraging children to participate in activities such as football can help prevent this trend.11
Preventing football injuries
Before you begin to play football, consider warming up before the game. A warm up consisting of some light exercise to warm the muscles and some stretching may help to reduce the risk of injury. For more information on warming up and stretching, read at our article Preparing for exercise.
What equipment do you need?
You don't need a lot of equipment to begin playing football, those who want to keep it simple only need a ball! If you play regularly or in competitive matches, you may wish to buy a pair of football boots and shin guards. Football boots have studs to increase grip on grassy surfaces and improve balance and stability, while shin guards help prevent possible injury of the lower leg. If you like, you can also buy specialist football shirts that are made from a polyester mesh which allows the fabric to breathe and so not retain the heat and sweat trapped by a normal cotton jersey.
For more information on both professional and grassroots football clubs, visit the official Football Association website:
- American College of Sports Medicine.
- Morris JN, Clayton DG, Everitt MG, Semmence AM, Burgess EH. Exercise in Leisure time: coronary attack and death rates. British Heart Journal 1990, 63(6): 325-334.
- Shaper AG, Wannamethee G. Physical activity and ischaemic heart disease in middle aged British men. British Heart Journal 1991, 66: 533-537.
- National Osteoporosis Foundation. Prevention - how can I prevent osteoporosis?
- McGuigan FE, Murray L, Gallagher A, Davey-Smith G, Neville CE, Van't Hof R, Boreham C, Ralston SH. Genetic and environmental determinants of peak bone mass in young men and women. J Bone Miner Res 2002 Jul;17(7):1273-9.
- Medline Plus. Physical activity and the use of calories. Updated: 29/11/01.
- Lacour JR, Kostka T, Bonnefoy M. Physical activity to delay the effects of aging on mobility. Presse Med 2002 Jul 27; 31(25): 1185-92.
- Iwasaki Y, Zuzanek J, Mannell RC. The effects of physically active leisure on stress-health relationships. Can J Public Health 2001 May-June; 92(3): 214-8.
- Steptoe P, Butler N. Sports participation and emotional wellbeing in adolescents. Lancet 1996 Jun 29; 347(9018): 1789-92.
- Health Education Authority (1997). Young people and physical activity: Promoting better Practice. Health Education Authority.
- Health Education Authority (1998). Young and active? Health Education Authority.