In the Journals

Homeless men boosted health playing pick-up soccer

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June 29, 2014

As World Cup competition continues, a timely study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports showed that playing street soccer improved cardiovascular and overall health in socially isolated and homeless men.

After 12 weeks, men participating in street soccer games demonstrated higher muscle mass, better postural balance, greater bone mineralization, lower body fat percentage, improved cholesterol ratio and better overall exercise capacity.

Peter Krustrup, PhD, of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, said in a press release that the study shows potential for team sports interventions for men who are homeless and/or socially deprived. “There seems to be great potential for improving the quality of many people's lives if local authorities can organize street football groups for homeless and socially deprived people,” Krustrup said in a press release.

In the study, men aged 20 to 50 years were organized to play street soccer with other men in the study two to three times a week over a 12-week study period. Significant improvements in bone health were measured in the soccer players; data demonstrated a 27% increase in plasma osteocalcin and a 1% improvement in upper-body bone mineralization.

“Altogether, these data provide clear evidence that street soccer minimizes the risk of falls and fractures in a population that has a 460% higher risk of being hospitalized with sudden trauma,” Krustrup said.

Playing soccer also boosted general fitness and cardiovascular health in the study participants. At the end of the study period, data showed players had increased maximal oxygen uptake by 11%, lowered fat mass by 1.7 kg and reduced LDL cholesterol by 13%. Krustrup said that the combination of these improved health indicators could cut the risk for cardiovascular disease in half.

A related study published in the same journal showed that playing street soccer could benefit patients with type 2 diabetes, in particular.

A 24-week study that had participants undergo twice-weekly soccer training sessions lowered blood pressure and improved heart function in men with type 2 diabetes who had a history of high blood pressure. These study participants lost 12% of abdominal fat and reduced blood sugar 20% more than inactive subjects in a control group. Blood pressure was reduced an average of 8 to 10 mmHg in study subjects.

Jens Bangsbo, PhD, DMSc, Sc, deputy head of research in nutrition, exercise and sports, at the University of Copenhagen, was enthusiastic about the results.

“Such changes are remarkable and may reduce the risk of future cardiovascular disease and death,” he said in a press release. “The results suggest that recreational football training may be a very efficient tool in the treatment of hypertension and type 2 diabetes.”

Disclosures: Endocrine Today could not confirm relevant financial disclosures at the time of publication.

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