DENVER – The world’s most popular sport could be utilized as a health promotion activity for the homeless, according to research being presented today at the 58th Annual Meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine and 2nd World Congress on Exercise is Medicine®. The health benefits of regular soccer training are undeniable for untrained men and women, but this study proposes that regular soccer training can help improve physical fitness and cardiovascular health among homeless men, too.
Improving health among homeless populations is challenging, as individuals in this demographic have an elevated risk of health-related diseases and early death due to the misuse of alcohol and sedatives, malnutrition and physical inactivity. To examine the possible changes in physical fitness and cardiovascular health, Morten Randers and a team of researchers from University of Copenhagen, Denmark, examined 22 homeless men during a 12-week soccer-training regimen.
“Many sports have an economical barrier to entry due to various equipment costs, but the only investment required to play soccer is a ball,” said Randers, lead author of this study. “This study shows that by playing soccer, homeless men can improve their health and fitness at a minute cost.”
For the study, the 22 homeless men (average age 36) played soccer for one hour, three times per week, for 12 weeks on a small-sided soccer field. The field dimensions for the study included a 16-by-22 meter asphalt pitch (playing field) and 1.1 meter boards (boundaries). Before and after the training, the research team took fasting blood samples, measured blood pressure and resting heart rate after 20 minutes of rest before performing DXA-scans and completing an incremental bicycle test to exhaustion. Eight homeless males served as the control group, maintaining their normal routines.
Statistically significant improvements recorded among the soccer-trained group included a 0.9 kg increase in lean body mass and a 1.4 percent increase in bone mineral density, as well as a 1.3 kg reduction in fat mass and a LDL-cholesterol reduction. Oxygen consumption and time to exhaustion improved as well. Resting heart rate lowered by five beats per minute, whereas no change in blood pressure was observed. However, important decrements in blood pressure were observed for those with elevated pre-study values.
While the homeless population faces many hurdles to good health and fitness, the organization of soccer training can be a valuable intervention strategy. The study also showed that motivation was high and the attendance rate was higher than normally observed in the homeless.
The American College of Sports Medicine is the largest sports medicine and exercise science organization in the world. More than 45,000 international, national and regional members and certified professionals are dedicated to advancing and integrating scientific research to provide educational and practical applications of exercise science and sports medicine.
The conclusions outlined in this news release are those of the researchers only and should not be construed as an official statement of the American College of Sports Medicine. Research highlighted in this news release has been presented at a professional meeting but has not been peer-reviewed.