Although the average age of football players when they retire is 35, dusting off boots and taking to the pitch again in later life could provide a variety of major health benefits. Whilst playing in conditions of 30 degrees and 75% humidity is better left to young performers at the Brazil World Cup, a new study has indicated that for the amateur player there are many health benefits to going to the park and having a kick about in the late 60s.
The study, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, and carried out by the Copenhagen Centre for Team Sport and Health in Denmark found that, untrained elderly men became fitter and healthier as a result of playing football. After four months of one hour training sessions twice a week, the men achieved dramatic improvements in their maximum oxygen uptake, muscle function and bone mineralisation.
In particular, inactive elderly men improved their maximum oxygen uptake by 15% and their performance during interval exercise by as much as 50%. Muscle function was improved by 30% and bone mineralisation in the femoral neck increased by 2%.
Lead author, Professor Peter Krustrup, said: “Our previous studies have shown that 70-year-old men with lifelong participation in football possess a postural balance and rapid muscle force that is comparable to that of 30-year-old untrained men. This time we have gone one step further by evaluating the intensity of soccer training as well as the health and fitness effects of soccer for untrained elderly men with little experience of soccer.”
“The results provide strong evidence that football is an intense, versatile and effective form of training, including for untrained elderly men. There is always time to start playing football. Football boosts physical capacity and heart health, and minimises the potential of fractures in elderly men who have far from ever played football before or had a long period out of the game.”
27 untrained men aged 63 to 75 were recruited, tested and randomised into a football group, a strength training group and an inactive control group. A comprehensive testing battery was used at baseline, after 4 months and after 12 months by a research team comprising of 20 researchers from the Copenhagen Centre for Team Sport and Health, the University of Southern Denmark, Gentofte University Hospital and the National Research Centre for the Working Environment.
Football provides a host of health factors that are specific to the elderly. Dribbles, passing and short sharp movements bode well for ligament, cartilage and bone strengthening whilst the periods of constant jogging increases cardiovascular capabilities.
Associate Professor Eva Wulff Helge continues: “GPS measurements and video analyses also showed that there are many fast runs, turns, dribbles, passes and shots, providing strong stimuli for muscle and bone adaptations. The fast runs, intense actions and unorthodox movements may well be the cause of a large increase in bone mineralisation in the femur bone and femoral neck after only 4 months and of the further 3% improvement from 4 to 12 months of training.”
For many elderly men there are still many opportunities to get involved in football. Veterans teams often take the form in 5-aside style tournaments with sports centres such as ‘GOALS’ providing the platform to a healthier lifestyle for all ages. Flick on the TV and let the World Cup inspire you to playing football again.
What other health benefits can elderly people gain from being active?