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.
- “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.
Prof Peter Krustrup
Professor of Sport and Health Sciences