Kicking Down the High Blood Pressure

Hypertension lowers in men who play soccer consistently over time

(RxWiki News) Gooooal! Scoring one for the team can also score better health when running around the field.

Soccer can help lower blood pressure, prevent cardiovascular disease and improve fitness among men in their middle years, a new study has found.

Though the study is small, the research is the first to show the health benefits of playing the game among those who have hypertension, or blood pressure above 140/90 mmHg.

"Exercise for better health."

Researchers led by Peter Krustup, PhD, a professor in the sport and health sciences department at the University of Exeter, looked at 33 men with mild to moderate hypertension.

The participants, who were between 33 and 54 years of age, were randomly divided into one of two groups.

The first group, 68 percent of which were on medication for their hypertension, had hour-long soccer training sessions twice weekly for six months.

The sessions consisted of a five-minute warm up and four 12-minute period matches.

The second group received regular medical advice from their doctors on eating well and being physically active.

Seventy-three percent of the participants in this group were using medication.

After three months of the programs and at the end of the six-month programs, researchers recorded participants' body fat, blood pressure, their ability to exercise and how much total oxygen they can breathe in.

They found that after six months of soccer training, 75 percent of men had blood pressure back in the healthy range, or 120/80 mmHg.

Their average blood pressure was reduced by 10 mmHg. The total oxygen they could breathe in and the extent to which they could exercise improved by 10 percent.

In addition, their body fat dropped 2 kilograms or almost 4 and a half pounds on average.

Among the other group, 27 percent were not exercising regularly.

Another 45 percent were walking, cycling, or engaging in other light activities about an hour a week, and 27 percent were doing more intense exercise about three hours per week.

Blood pressure had decreased by only 5 mmHg and there were no significant changes in their oxygen uptake, body fat or ability to exercise.

"The soccer training also boosted the aerobic fitness and resulted in marked improvements in both maximal and moderate exercise capacity," said Dr. Krustup.

"Playing [soccer] made it easier for previously untrained men to train even harder, and also make it easier for them to cope with everyday life activities such as cycling, walking upstairs, shopping and lawn mowing."

When individuals play and run aggressively in sports such as soccer or basketball, it can be outstanding for somebody's fitness, according to Jim Crowell, co-owner of Integrative Fitness and dailyRx Contributing Expert.

"When you train your body to run for long periods of time but also rev up to a sprint or jump your body will see better results," Crowell said.

The findings "may contribute fundamentally to prevention of cardiovascular disease in hypertensive men," Dr. Krustup said.

"Our results are very exciting and we are now trying to understand the findings in more depth, for example, by investigating the effects of playing football on the heart's structure and function," said co-author Peter Riis Hansen, PhD, a senior cardiologist at Gentofte University Hospital in Denmark.

The authors note they did not look at whether participants continued to benefit from training after the study or whether they continued to play soccer at all. They also did not look at whether injuries affected their results.

Danish Heart Foundation, FIFA's Medical Assessment and Research Centre, Nordea-fonden, Dansk Boldspil-Union and the Sports Confederation of Denmark funded the study.

The study was published online October 15 in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

The authors do not declare any conflicts of interest.

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Review Date: 
October 21, 2012