Public Release: 

Football is medicine for women with high blood pressure

University of Southern Denmark Faculty of Health Sciences

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IMAGE: Football Fitness is effective exercise with health benefits -- especially for women. view more

Credit: Mia Kjaergaard, DBU

The Danish concept Football Fitness has proved to be just as effective as tablets for countering high blood pressure. Furthermore, women participating in the project have also benefited from improved physical fitness, decreased body fat percentage and stronger bones.

Professor Peter Krustrup of the University of Southern Denmark calls this "a 4-0 health victory for Football Fitness, with the ball hitting every corner of the net". This is the first time he has demonstrated a long-term effect for female patients participating in Football Fitness.

In a randomised trial involving 31 women aged 35-50 with mildly high blood pressure, 1 hour of football training two to three times a week over 1 year proved to be an effective broad-spectrum medicine, with positive effects on blood pressure, body fat percentage, bone density and physical fitness.

"Our study shows that untrained women with high blood pressure benefit greatly from Football Fitness in respect of blood pressure, body fat percentage, bone density and physical fitness. This form of football can rightly be described as effective and broad-spectrum medicine for women with high blood pressure," says Professor Krustrup.

Prevent lifestyle diseases with Football Fitness

According to Professor Krustrup, the results of the project, backed by 14 years of football research, show that football can be used for effective prevention and treatment of a number of lifestyle diseases, including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. The results also support the growing evidence that physical activity can lead to a more broad-spectrum reduction in risk factors for cardiovascular disease than traditional pharmacological treatment. "Football Fitness training comprises high-pulse training, stamina training and strength training, which explains why the women derived such significant and broad-spectrum effects on physical fitness and health by playing football for a year. What is more, they enjoyed the training and the attendance levels were high," says Professor Krustrup.

128 training sessions paid off

The study recruited 31 untrained Faroese women aged 35-50 with high blood pressure, of whom 19 were randomised to Football Fitness training of 1 hour for two to three times a week over 1 year, corresponding to an average of 128 sessions.

In a direct comparison with the inactive control group, the women engaged in football training derived significant positive effects on blood pressure (9 mmHg), body fat mass (3.1 kg), triglyceride (0.3 mmol/l), bone mass (70 g) and interval fitness (120% better Yo-Yo IE1 performance).

The study, conducted in close collaboration with project leader Dr Magni Mohr, Centre of Health Sciences at the University of the Faroe Islands and researchers from Copenhagen University Hospital (Rigshospitalet), is due to be published later today in the acclaimed Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports.

Great prospects both nationally and internationally

Bent Clausen, vice chairman of the Danish Football Association (DBU), and Kim Høgh, CEO of the Danish Heart Foundation, both see great prospects for Football Fitness in relation to preventing and treating lifestyle diseases, both nationally and internationally.

"The Danish Heart Foundation aims to prevent cardiovascular disease, which causes one in four deaths in Denmark. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for all people, and as we will be focusing on women's hearts in the coming years, this is a very interesting study showing that Football Fitness has huge positive potential," says Kim Høgh.

"Football Fitness, currently practised at 275 Danish football clubs, was conceived as part of the "Exercise for life" vision in a close collaboration between the Danish FA, The Danish Sports Confederation and DGI, which aims to create more active Danes. Nationally, the goal is for 10,000 more Danes to be taking part in Football Fitness in three years. But the ambitions do not stop there. Pilot projects in the Faroe Islands, Norway, Serbia, the United Kingdom and Brazil have produced such positive results that there are realistic expectations that the concept will gain international prominence, and that is fantastic," says Bent Clausen.

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The man behind it all:

Peter Krustrup was appointed Professor of Sport and Health Sciences in the Department of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics, University of Southern Denmark, in October 2016. In this role, his focus on research in football at both elite and amateur level receives great support. On 26 and 27 January 2017, he will be assembling a large number of international football elite's theorists and practitioners at a seminar on football research and the use of research in elite football, where Professor Krustrup himself and various international experts will be sharing their experiences. The day before, Professor Krustrup's mandatory inaugural lecture will be on the subject of "Promoting Health and Boosting Performance".

Peter Krustrup has also held professorships at the University of Exeter in England and the University of Copenhagen. He has been researching football and health for 14 years, during which time he has published 225 scientific articles. This research output currently places him second in the football research world rankings, published by the US website expertscape.com on the basis of research publications in football in the last 10 years.

Peter Krustrup has contributed to the development of various exercise concepts, including FIT FIRST, FIFA 11 for Health in Europe, and Football Fitness and its offshoot FC Prostate. The latter concept, where men with prostate cancer come together to minimise side-effects of antihormone treatment and to socialise on the football pitch, won the Danish Sport Award at the SPORT 2016 event.

About Football Fitness:

Football Fitness was created in 2011 in a close collaboration between the Danish Football Association and Professor Peter Krustrup. The concept involves football training for all, regardless of age, gender, level of football experience and physical fitness. The training comprises a thorough warm-up of strength, balance and ball exercises followed by games, for example 5v5 on small pitches, with the focus on fun, socialising and health. No competitive matches are played.

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