Football for Health

Under the umbrella of “Football for Health”, the effects of recreational football for the prevention and treatment of non-communicable diseases have been extensively studied. These studies have involved footballers of all ages and have also included untrained participants with a variety of chronic health conditions. They have shown that playing football on a regular basis twice a week for 45 minutes has a significant positive impact on health status.

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“The treatment”
While playing any form of football is likely to have benefits for multiple body systems, most of the clinical data relates to “small-sided” games. Small-sided games (4v4 to 6v6) have been shown to induce multifaceted and more profound physiological changes than jogging, interval running or strength training. From a physiological point of view, small-sided football can be considered an effective combination of intense interval training, endurance training and strength training with broad spectrum effects on cardiovascular, metabolic and musculoskeletal fitness.
“Treatment dose”
Most studies have looked at a “dose” of 45-60 minutes of football two or three times per week. After a period of playing regularly, a lower “maintenance dose” has also been shown to be effective. “Rating of perceived exertion” is a frequently used method to determine how hard a player is working (scored on an analogue scale from 0-10). In untrained men playing football, the average rating of perceived exertion is four (moderately hard). This level of activity is generally less strenuous than interval running, jogging and strength training.
Side effects
Like any treatment, there are potential side effects. With regard to football, these include muscle soreness, injury and the possibility of increased cardiovascular risk. In general though, small-sided football training on small pitches appears to be a safe intervention with a further reduction of injuries when using the “FIFA 11+” injury-prevention programme. Like a pharmaceutical treatment, the dose should be started low and increased.
As you will see football can be prescribed as a therapeutic procedure for a number of diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, prostate cancer, child obesity and others.

Prof Peter Krustrup

Professor of Sport and Health Sciences