This systematic review and meta-analysis from the BJSM analyses the literature relating to football as a treatment for non-communicable diseases1. It has demonstrated compelling evidence relating to the treatment of hypertension – as well as evidence relating other conditions including obesity and elevated cholesterol.
The systematic review identified a total of 31 papers that met the authors inclusion criteria. To be included, studies needed to compare a recreational football intervention (lasting a minimum of two weeks) with any other exercise modality or a passive (no-exercise) control group.
The review has shown that recreational football has multiple positive effects on health-related physical fitness in comparison with no-exercise controls, including beneficial effects on systolic and diastolic blood pressure, resting heart rate, fat mass, plasma LDL cholesterol and counter movement jump performance. A minimum of twelve weeks of training was needed to see these effects. The changes were seen in both men and women, and in individuals with a variety of different fitness levels. The most compelling evidence was for a reduction in both systolic and diastolic blood pressure. While this appeared to be an ‘across the board’ response, a greater blood pressure reduction was observed for participants with hypertension (than for normotensive individuals). The observed reduction in systolic BP and diastolic BP was 11 and 7mm Hg in subjects with mild hypertension and 10 and 7 mm Hg in individuals with pre-hypertension. These improvements are comparable with the acute effect of taking blood pressure-lowering drug and appear clinically relevant. This level of blood pressure reduction corresponds to a lowered risk of stroke by 20%–30% in individuals with hypertension.
One potential limitation that should be considered is that the majority of the studies included in this review have come from the same research group. This may limit the generalisability of the review’s findings to other patient groups.
1Milanović Z, Pantelić S, Čović N et al. Broad-spectrum physical fitness benefits of recreational football: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med 2019;53:926–939. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2017-097885