In a new study, researchers were able to show that long-term recreational soccer training leads to dramatic improvements in health profiles, including reduced risks of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, in elderly men between the ages of 63 and 75.
Carried out at the Copenhagen University's Copenhagen Centre for Team Sport and Health, the study lasted for a year and its results were published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Given the length of the study, the researchers were able to observe both long-term and immediate effects of recreational soccer training on elderly men.
At four months, cardiovascular fitness scores were up by 15 percent while functional capacity improved by 30 percent and interval work capacity by 43 percent. After a year, the participants recorded a 3-percent reduction in their Body Mass Index (BMI) purely from losing fat mass. They also exhibited better blood sugar control and improved capacity at handling harmful free radicals that can impair vital cell function by causing oxidative stress in the body.
"The improvements contribute significantly to reducing the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and diabetes," said Thomas Rostgaard Andersen, one of the study's authors.
Aside from fat loss, better blood sugar control and improved free-radical handling, training done for the study also led to a boost in muscle mass.
People lose muscle mass as they age, reducing the ability to stick to a physically active lifestyle. In the study, the participants lost weight but not muscle mass, helping ensure they can continue doing ordinary day-to-day activities, like doing grocery shopping and going up the stairs, even at their age.
One of the best reasons that made recreational soccer effective for elderly men was that it was fun and sociable, which allowed the participants to complete 52 weeks of training. Soccer training was so fun, in fact, that many of the participants continue to engage in it twice a week, even after two years since the study was completed.
The researchers hope that their work will pave the way for interventions that will help improve the lives of the elderly both on the physical and social front.
Other authors for the study include: Jens Bangsbo, Peter Krustrup, Mogens Theisen Pedersen and Jakob Friis Schmidt.