World Cup fever – the health benefits of playing football

The 2018 FIFA World Cup is now in full swing and with three to four games a day lined up it’s all too easy to spend every free moment in front of the T.V., beer in hand. At the same time, there’s something to be said for the world’s best players inspiring us to get active and kick a ball around ourselves. In addition to the chance to bring out your inner Messi or Ronaldo, playing football can bring…

… Excellent health benefits

Football can be hugely beneficial to your physical health. Importantly, the sport provides the exercise to help you meet key targets for aerobic activity (75 minutes of vigorous activity a week are recommended by the NHS), which in general can reduce the risk of illnesses such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Football is also great for losing weight – in one hour of football the average 190lb man can expect to burn over 800 calories, a rate which is comparable to swimming, rugby and cycling. That said, don’t forget that different positions on the field will see you working harder than others – your team’s winger will run significantly further throughout a match than the goalkeeper or centre-back.

Moreover, football’s combination of running, sprinting and quick changes of direction works particularly well to improve stamina and cardiovascular health, as well as reduce body fat. The nature of the game also means that football strengthens muscles in different parts of the body. The upper body (shielding the ball, balance and taking throw-ins), the core (support and balance) as well as the lower body (running and striking the ball) all benefit from trying on your shooting boots.

… A positive impact on mental health

As the Mental Health Foundation writes, for people with depression “comparative studies have shown that exercise can be as effective as medication or psychotherapy”. Indeed, research has shown that endorphins, the chemicals your body releases during exercise, trigger a positive feeling in the body similar to that of morphine – the “euphoric” feeling of “runner’s high” for example. Moreover, tiring yourself out with a session marshalling the midfield also helps you to fall asleep faster and to deepen sleep, which in turn should boost your mood and provide a positive start to the following day.

The benefit with football; however, is not just physiological. Research from the London School of Economics found that playing sport in a team can boost long-term happiness in addition to the obvious health benefits. Team sports like football provide a means to combat social isolation, giving players a sense of belonging and providing a ready support network. Meanwhile, the game itself fosters communication, teamwork and decision-making skills in addition to the social aspect it provides off the pitch.

But remember …

In comparison to non-weight bearing sports such as swimming or cycling, football is an impact sport which can be harsh on the joints when played frequently. Make sure you consider whether full-size football is right for you, but if so that’s no reason to hang up the boots. Aimed at over-50s, Walking Football (where, as the name suggests, running is forbidden), provides an opportunity to continue playing but at a slower pace.


Overall, whether you’re a talented striker or a plodding defender, playing football provides a number of great benefits across physical and mental health. From 5-a-side to your local Sunday League side, there’s no shortage of ways to get involved. As the World Cup continues there couldn’t be a better time to enjoy the sport … that is, of course, until England crash out.




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