The biggest tournament in the world’s most popular sport has finally arrived. The build-up to the World Cup finals in Brazil has been dogged by controversy and protests, but now that the tournament is finally underway, billions of people are tuning in each day and night to watch football’s biggest stars do battle for the coveted crown of world champions. With three games each day for the next two weeks or so, it is an ideal time to be a lazy armchair football fan. Or is it?
As we all know, lounging around the living room every evening and watching TV is not exactly conducive to a healthy lifestyle, so we tip our hat to those who are currently feeling the urge to blow the dust off their football boots and go out for a kick-around. Football offers many health benefits, and here are five that may surprise you.
A quick look – or admiring glance – at the rippling physique of Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo is visible proof of the overall health and fitness benefits of playing football. It’s a physically demanding 90-minute game, and footballers develop strong fitness, health and endurance levels. The average professional footballer runs between 7 km and 10 km each game, but it is the combination of jogging, running and sprinting which really works to build up conditioning and endurance. Regular twisting and turning also allows footballers to strengthen their lower body and core strength.
Yet, despite these benefits, Ronaldo’s physique is as much to do with his lifestyle off the pitch and his commitment to the gym as it is with football. At the professional level, running, training and playing games is, sadly, no longer enough. Physical conditioning, diet and strength work now complement football practice and games to ensure players are both fit enough and strong enough to face the physical demands of a tournament such as the World Cup.
Football is a team sport, usually played in groups of 5, 7 or 11 players. As such, it promotes teamwork, and helps players to develop strong coordination skills and on-the-go learning abilities. In mental terms, football stimulates brain activity and promotes concentration. Players must also learn inner self-discipline techniques and to control their emotions. Kids are taught from a young age to play as a team and to listen and follow the instructions of their manager and captain. With its social aspect, football helps players to become confident and improve their self-esteem. Scoring the winning goal or making a goal-saving tackle can elevate mood (and lead to a little well-deserved adoration from teammates).
Both adults and children can also use football as a way of making friends. Expats in countless countries around the world, for example, will regardless of their ability be able to join their company five-a-side or their local 11-a-side team to meet new people and adjust to their new surroundings. Kids, meanwhile, will typically join a football team at age eight or nine, the perfect age to help them to start developing bonds and solid friendships.
Boost brain power and sharpen memory
We have already mentioned that football improves a person’s concentration, but did you know it also boosts brain power? In fact, any tough physical workout, be it in the gym or on the sports field, will provide the brain with a surge of power and activity. Football works to increase the number of proteins in the brain, specifically a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which helps the brain to make decisions, and to promote learning and higher thinking. Playing football regularly also sharpens our ability to learn new things, and improves our memory and retention. If we ever needed more encouragement to get our kids playing football, recent studies in the United States have linked the rate at which the brain develops in a child to that child’s level of fitness.
One major benefit of playing football is that it improves all around energy levels which help us to be more productive, both at home and in the workplace. Research has shown that adults who undertake strenuous cardiovascular activity such as football are twice as productive as their less energetic colleagues. Additionally, looking closely at the natural rhythm of the body, studies have shown that mid-day is the best time of the day for a workout. Granted, some of us have hectic schedules which leave little time for lunch, never mind sport. But if ever there was ever an excuse to play football at lunchtime, this is it. Why not organise a weekly work five-a-side outing today!
A good night’s sleep
As anyone who has played a full 90-minute game of football will attest to, you feel pretty exhausted afterwards. Physically demanding sports such as football can play an important role in the body’s natural clock, helping people to unwind, relieve anxiety and get a rewarding rest that evening.
Undergoing sustained physical activity like playing a football match raises the core temperature of the body both during and after a game. When the core begins to cool down, it is a signal to the brain that rest and sleep are required. It is not uncommon for many professional footballers to practice in the morning and then sleep in the afternoon.
People who do not get enough sleep or have trouble sleeping are often advised by medical professionals to take up a new activity or sport to help them to use up more energy during the day. This in turn promotes a proper alignment of the body’s natural wake-rest cycle, leading to a solid and unbroken night’s sleep.