Here’s an interesting new study which suggests that you can get some amazing health and fitness benefits from playing just one hour of soccer two or three times a week.
At the University of Copenhagen, researchers followed a soccer team of 14 untrained men between 20 and 40 years of age for 12 weeks. The group practiced soccer two or three times a week for an hour.
The soccer players were then compared to a group of joggers that exercised two or three times a week for the same duration on measures of fitness rating, percentage of body fat, total muscle mass, cholesterol, blood pressure, insulin sensitivity and balance.
At the end of 12 weeks the researchers found that the soccer players lost 7.7 pounds of fat and gained 4.4 pounds of muscle while the joggers lost only 4.4 pounds of fat with no increase in muscle mass. Both groups, however, showed significant improvements in blood pressure, insulin sensitivity and balance.
We know that the soccer players gained the muscle and lost more fat because of the sprints; short bursts of high intensity activity stimulate the release growth hormone which signals your body to burn fat and grow muscle.
But what I find interesting is how much soccer resembles the activities of our Paleolithic ancestors, the hunter-gatherers. The idea being that our genes evolved with the “expectation” of a certain threshold of physical activity. And when that threshold is not met, we become susceptible to the diseases of civilization (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc).
Running up and down the soccer field with short sprints interspersed is similar to tracking and hunting wild game. And, jumping and tackling your opponent is like catching a deer or fighting off a predator.
In light of our evolution, it makes perfect sense that the soccer players improved on every health and fitness measure that was tested!