Playing soccer (football) could be the best way for people with high blood pressure, known as hypertension, to improve their fitness, normalise their blood pressure and reduce their risk of stroke. Research from Universities of Exeter and Copenhagen, and Gentofte University Hospital in Denmark, published today (Monday 15 October 2012) in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, suggests that soccer training prevents cardiovascular disease in middle-aged men with hypertension and is more effective than healthy lifestyle advice currently prescribed by GPs.
After six months of soccer training, three out of four men in this study had blood pressure within the normal, healthy range.
Almost one third of British men have hypertension, which increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases including stroke and coronary artery disease. It has long been known that physical exercise can reduce blood pressure in patients with hypertension, but until now little evidence is available on which form of exercise is most effective.
The research team recruited 33 men aged between 33 and 54 with mild to moderate hypertension. They randomly divided them in two groups: one took part in two hour-long soccer training sessions a week while the other received usual care by a GP including advice about the importance of physical activity and a healthy diet, together with control blood pressure measurements. The effects on exercise capacity, maximal oxygen uptake, body fat and blood pressure, were monitored after three months and at the end of the six-month trial.
For the soccer-playing group, average mean blood pressure was reduced by 10 mmHg, while the reduction was only 5 mmHg in the control group receiving the usual GP advice. For the football group, maximal oxygen uptake and maximal exercise capacity was improved by10 per cent, resting heart rate decreased by eight beats per minute and body fat mass dropped by an average of two kilograms. No significant changes to these health measures were observed in the control group.
The men who had taken part in soccer training were also found to be less physically strained during moderate intensity exercise. When taking part in activities such as cycling, they had markedly lower heart rates and elevated fat burning.
Lead researcher Professor Peter Krustrup of the University of Exeter said: "Playing soccer scores a hat trick for men with hypertension: it reduces blood pressure, improves fitness and burns fat. Only two hour-long football training sessions a week for six months caused a remarkable 13/8 mmHg in arterial blood pressure, with three out of four participants normalising their blood pressure during the study period.