Women May Lower Their Blood Pressure Playing Recreational Football
June 20, 2014

Women May Lower Their Blood Pressure Playing Recreational Football

Rebekah Eliason for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online

Millions around the world are tapping into their love for football (soccer) as the World Cup competitions surge forward in Brazil. New research suggests that if women between the ages of 35 and 50 would take their football interest onto the field it may help lower their blood pressure.

In only fifteen weeks’ time, women in this age range who have mild high blood pressure significantly reduce their blood pressure as well as body fat percentage by participating in recreational football.

Two different articles published highlight the benefits of recreational football among older women. In the first article, researchers discovered that three one-hour football training sessions a week over a period of fifteen weeks was sufficient to improve overall physical fitness and considerably reduce blood pressure. The second article reported on the enthusiasm of women to participate in the Football Fitness program currently found in football clubs across Denmark.

"After 15 weeks of participation in recreational football, systolic and diastolic blood pressure had fallen by 12 and 6 millimetres of mercury (mmHg) and the women had lost 2.3 kg of fat on average," says project leader Magni Mohr of the University of Exeter. "The football training produced an impressive reduction in blood pressure that was more than twice as big as with swimming performed over the same period as the football."

Additionally, researchers discovered that women enjoy playing football regardless of previous experience. Mohr added, “The players faithfully attended training, with an attendance rate of over 90 percent. In fact, through the project period they came to enjoy playing so much that they have now started up their own football club.” Professor Peter Krustrup, who has been studying the health effects of recreational football and many other forms of physical activity for the past 10 years, said “Our previous studies have shown that 16 weeks of football training reduces blood pressure in 20‒45-year-old women with normal blood pressure, but this is the first study that has looked at the effects of recreational football in women with high blood pressure.”

"As well as the impressive effects on blood pressure and body composition, we also saw a drop in cholesterol and a big improvement in physical fitness as a result of the 15 weeks of football training," says Krustrup. "In fact, the women were able to run more than twice as far in a Yo-Yo Intermittent Endurance Test and their heart rate was 14 beats per minute lower when working at moderate intensity. Recreational football is an effective therapy for poor fitness and high blood pressure in 35‒50-year-old women."

Laila Ottesen, who is a sports sociologist currently studying the Football Fitness movement, said, "Traditionally, there haven't been so many older female players in English, Faroese or Danish football clubs, but the relatively new Danish initiative of Football Fitness has really caught on with women. At present, there are 180 football clubs across Denmark offering Football Fitness. In just a few years, the initiative has become hugely popular with women, who currently make up almost 75 percent of players. Football Fitness is about training in a fun, sociable and healthy way and not about playing matches against local rivals."

Ottesen added, “Matches are not part of the package, and consequently Football Fitness appeals to a lot of women who have never been in a football club before, in Denmark and probably also many other countries.”

For the training project, 41 women between the ages of 35 and 50, who had never been trained in football, were selected to participate. All the women had mild high blood pressure that was approximately 140/90 mmHg. They were all randomly assigned to a football training group or to an inactive control group.

The active football participants were trained for one hour three times a week for fifteen weeks. Training occurred on artificial grass in Torshavn in the Faroes. At the beginning and end of the fifteen weeks, the women were given an extensive test.

The project was a collaboration of effort between the University of Exeter (UK), the University of Gothenburg (Sweden), University of the Faroe Islands, Faroese National Hospital, The Faroese Football Association, Rigshospitalet and the Copenhagen Centre for Team sport and Health at the University of Copenhagen (Denmark).

The Football Fitness project comprises research into Danish football clubs and was carried out by, among others, associate professor Laila Ottesen and PhD student Søren Bennike of the Copenhagen Centre for Team Sport and Health.

The study was published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports.