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'Soccer shows way to peak fitness for middle-aged'

Posted on Oct 16, 06:32PM | IANS

Playing soccer is the best way for middle-aged men to stay in peak fitness, normalise their blood pressure (BP) and cut stroke risk, say European scientists.

The study, from Universities of Exeter (Britain), Copenhagen and Gentofte University Hospital, Denmark, found playing the sport was more effective than healthy lifestyle advice preferred by general practitioners.

After six months of soccer training, three out of four men in the study had blood pressure within the normal, healthy range. Almost one-third of British men have hypertension, which increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, including stroke and coronary artery disease, the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise reports.

It has long been known that physical exercise can reduce BP in patients with hypertension, but until now little evidence is available on which form of exercise is most effective, reports the Daily Mail.

The research team recruited 33 men aged between 33 and 54 years with mild to moderate hypertension.

They randomly divided them in two groups: one took part in two hour-long soccer training sessions a week while the other received usual care, including advice about the importance of physical activity and a healthy diet.

The effects on exercise capacity, maximal oxygen uptake, body fat and blood pressure, were monitored after three months and at the end of the six-month trial.

Oxygen uptake and exercise capacity also improved by 10 percent among the footballers, with resting heart rate decreasing by eight beats per minute and body fat mass dropping by an average of four pounds.

The men who had taken part in football training were also found to be less physically strained during moderate intensity exercise. When taking part in activities such as cycling, they had markedly lower heart rates and elevated fat burning.

Peter Krustrup, professor, University of Exeter said: "Playing soccer scores a hat trick for men with hypertension: it reduces blood pressure, improves fitness and burns fat."

"The soccer training also boosted the aerobic fitness and resulted in marked improvements in both maximal and moderate exercise capacity. Playing football made it easier for previously untrained men to train even harder, and also make it easier for them to cope with everyday life activities such as cycling, walking upstairs, shopping and lawn mowing," Krustrup said.

Senior cardiologist from Gentofte University Hospital in Denmark, Peter Riis Hansen, also emphasised that evidence suggests that the decrease in blood pressure after football training lead to a considerable reduction in the risk of stroke, myocardial infarction and death.