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Football is medicine: it is time for patients to play!

Photo of man exercising with football
Photo by Jhan Castillón on Unsplash

In a study done by Peter Krustrup and Birgitte R Krustrup, they came to the conclusion that Football is medicine: it is time for patients to play.

Prominent worldwide exercise guidelines, including those from the WHO and ACSM, encourage sedentary individuals and patients to engage in exercise activities like brisk walking, jogging, cycling, and fitness centre training. However, within physical activity guidelines, less emphasis has been placed on the health benefits of sporting activities. Below is the evidence for football as medicine and conclusion as presented by the research paper.

The evidence for football as medicine

*VO2max – VO2 max refers to the maximum amount of oxygen you can utilize during exercise.

In the research which was started in 2003, observational pilot studies were done on movement patterns, exercise intensity, and fitness benefits of football training. These investigations included Danish low-level senior and veteran players, homeless men, and sedentary computer enthusiasts, the so-called FC Zulu team, with no prior football experience.

Interesting pilot results demonstrated an average increase in VO2max* from 35 to 52 mL/min/kg over 2 years for the FC Zulu players and led to the first RCTs in 2006–2008 on football training compared with other popular exercise regimes for sedentary young men and women.

Photo of two players heading a ball
Photo by Kenny Webster on Unsplash

From 2010 onwards, numerous randomised controlled trials were conducted for football training in patient groups with hypertension, type 2 diabetes, osteopaenia, and prostate and breast cancer. The past 15 years of research have led us to conclude that football training is an intense and versatile training type that combines endurance, aerobic high-intensity interval (HIIT), and strength training for participants of all ages and skill levels.

Football may therefore be characterised as an all-in-one type of training with broad-spectrum fitness effects for the general population, with football training for 2×1 hour per week resulting in marked positive and simultaneous effects on cardiovascular, metabolic, and musculoskeletal fitness. Specifically, meta-analyses have revealed an increase in VO2max of 3.5 mL/min/kg in 12–26 weeks as well as a 1.7 kg loss in fat mass and 1.1 kg increase in muscle mass in 12–16 weeks for sedentary adults, along with an 11/7 mm Hg drop in BP in 12–16 weeks for 30–75-year-old patients with mild-to-moderate hypertension. This cumulative evidence establishes football as effective broad-spectrum prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation strategy for a broad range of patient groups

It is time for patients to play!

The use of football as therapy has enormous global implications. First, football as medicine is cheap and easily distributed all over the world as football training is already performed by an estimated 500 million players worldwide, of which 300 million are registered in clubs.

Photo of woman playing football
Photo by Kenny Webster on Unsplash

Second, the use of a motivating and social activity as a medicine against diseases may well make it easier for patients to take the exercise pill and to adhere to lifestyle changes. Note that most of the available research relates to football training, as per the ‘Football Fitness’ concept, comprising 1-hour sessions with a proper warm-up, pair-based football exercises, and 2 vs 2 to 5 vs 5 football drills with rules adjusted to the participant group.

This type of football training is organised so that it encourages life-long participation for almost everybody and results in few injuries compared with the type of match-play football seen on television. Football training is social, fun, variable, adjustable, and popular both in short-term and long-term programs for participants of all ages, skill levels, and socioeconomic background.

Photo of man kicking a ball
Photo by Baylee Gramling on Unsplash

Football training elicits high ratings of enjoyment with moderate ratings of perceived exertion and it builds social relations in pair-work and teamwork with positive effects on mental and social well-being. Football is medicine: it is time for patients to play!

Reference/Credit

Krustrup, P., & Krustrup, B. R. (2018). Football is medicine: it is time for patients to play!. British journal of sports medicine, 52(22), 1412–1414. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsports-2018-099377

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