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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Regular recreational football practice: might it be the fountain of youth?

The stimulus for this post was the recent paper by Trappe et al. (2013)  published in the Journal of Applied Physiology. Two research groups –one from the Ball State University, USA  and the other one from the Karolinska Institute, Sweden- collaborated for this study with the aim to measure the aerobic power and myocellular markers of oxidative metabolism in lifelong endurance athletes and age-matched, healthy untrained men aged above 80 years. The endurance athletes had been engaged in vigorous aerobic exercise their entire life and were still active participating in sports 4-6 times per week.
The analysis showed a remarkably high aerobic power for lifelong exercisers (maximal oxygen uptake  ranging between 34 and 42 ml/kg/min). This high aerobic power was accompanied by a greater muscle oxidative capacity of the lifelong exercisers compared with the control group men.

What is the effect of high aerobic power on health?
Several studies have shown that a high aerobic power is associated with lower mortality rate. Indeed, for every 1 MET increase in aerobic power above 5 METs the mortality risk may be lowered by 12%.Thus, a high aerobic power is a key component of all programs targeting health improvement.

How is this study linked to football?
Football is an intermittent, long-lasting exercise that might increase aerobic power at all ages (Krustrup et al., 2010a). Studies from the University of Copenhagen have shown that regular recreational football practice in the form of small-sided games (2-3 times per week for 12-16 weeks) is associated with:
  • Controlled body weight, lowering of body fat and increase of lean mass
  • Lowering of the systolic and diastolic blood pressure
  • Improved lipid profile
  • Improved cardiac function

Besides the biological effects, it seems that regular football practice has considerable positive effects on psychological status too (Krustrup et al., 2010a & b).  Given this evidence it seems logical to suggest that regular football practice at somehow high intensity may improve health and lower mortality rate.

For further reading
Krustrup et al. Executive summary: The health and fitness benefits of regular participation in small-sided football games. Scan J Med Sci Sports 20 (Suppl 1): 132-135, 2010a.
Krustrup et al. Recreational football as a health promoting activity: a topical review. Scan J Med Sci Sports 20 (Suppl 1): 1-13, 2010a.
Trappe et al. New records in aerobic power among octogenarian lifelong endurance athletes. J Appl Physiol 114: 3-10, 2013.

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