Playing soccer regularly can reduce the risk of falls and bone fractures, according to an extensive research project.
Led by Professors Peter Krustrup and Jens Bangsbo from Department of Exercise and Sports Sciences, University of Copenhagen, 50 researchers from seven countries have studied the physical, psychological and social aspects of soccer.
The researchers studied the effects of soccer on muscle strength, postural balance, bone mineral density and reflex response to a sudden push in the back among adult women and men.
They showed that regular participation in soccer increases both bone mass and bone density, causes a significant improvement in standing postural balance and improves muscle strength.
Together, these effects reduce the risk of falls and bone fractures.
The observed improvements in bone mineral density, strength and postural balance due to recreational soccer are of particularly interest for a large group of women but also for elderly men, said Peter Krustrup.
"It is well known that the risk of falls and fractures increases with age as a result of weaker bones, poorer balance and attenuated ability to trigger rapid muscle force, but the present results suggest that soccer - and possibly other ball games - is an effective training method to reduce bone weakening that comes with increasing age," he added.
A 14-week study in which women aged 20-47 years trained soccer twice a week showed marked increases in bone density in the left and right tibia.
In addition, soccer training showed an elevated mass of the calf muscle, greater muscle strength, and an improved balance.
A 16-months training intervention for the same subject group showed that prolonged soccer training for untrained premenopausal women elevates whole-body bone mineral density.
The women who participated in the study had never played soccer before, implying that all can benefit from soccer.
Interestingly the short- and long-term training effects on bone mineral density were greater for the soccer players than for a similar group of runners and an inactive control group.
Small-sided soccer games for 1 hour two to three times a week during 12 weeks for untrained men aged 20-40 years resulted in significant increases in muscle mass and leg bone mass, whereas no effects occurred for the inactive control group. The postural balance was improved as well.
In a follow-up study on long-term effects of soccer for men, it was demonstrated that 64 weeks of training have an additional effect on both muscle mass and leg bone mineral density.
"The research shows that 70-year-old men, who have played soccer most of their lives on a recreational basis, have just as good a balance and rapid muscle strength as untrained 30-year-olds and much better balance and muscle strength than their peers" said Krustrup.
As an example, the untrained older men had more than twice as many falls in a one-leg balance test, compared to the soccer-trained older men and untrained young men.
Five scientific articles on the findings are now being published in Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports.