Reviewed by Emily Henderson, B.Sc, News- Medical/Life Sciences
The University of Southern Denmark (SDU), Rigshospitalet, and the University of Copenhagen have come together to study the effects of Football Fitness on various health parameters and self-rated health following treatment for breast cancer.
The results of the project, called Football Fitness After Breast Cancer (ABC), have now been published in three scientific articles published in international sports medicine, cardiology, and oncology journals.
“The main conclusion is that Football Fitness is an intense and good form of training for women treated for breast cancer, with beneficial effects on balance, muscle strength and bone density,” says Professor Peter Krustrup, Head of Research at SDU’s Department of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics, who has been studying the health effects of football and other sports for more than 15 years.
Twice weekly training sessions for a year
The researchers from SDU and the University Hospitals Centre for Health Research at Rigshospitalet joined with doctors and nurses from the Department of Oncology at Rigshospitalet and researchers at the University of Copenhagen to investigate whether Football Fitness offered twice weekly for 12 months can boost various health parameters in women treated for breast cancer.
The study involved 68 women aged 23 to 74, with an average age of 48, who were randomized 2:1 to a training group (46 participants) and a control group (22 participants). The trial ran for 12 months, during which the training group was offered Football Fitness training sessions twice a week comprising a warm-up, fitness and football drills, and small-sided games of 5v5 and 7v7 using two goals.
At the start of the study and after 6 and 12 months, respectively, health parameters such as fitness, bone and muscle strength, balance, body fat percentage, blood pressure, and cholesterol were measured and the participants completed questionnaires to rate their quality of life and energy in everyday activities.
It was also investigated whether participation in Football Fitness increased the risk of the participants developing chronic swelling (lymphoedema) on the side where they had been treated for breast cancer.
Football Fitness improves balance, strengthens muscle, and counteracts bone weakening
In an article just published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, the researchers show that 12 months of football training, performed on average 0.8 x 1 hour per week, gave the women better balance and greater muscle strength in the legs, while at the same time increasing bone density in the lumbar spine.
The participants who took part in at least one weekly session also achieved an improvement in bone strength in the femur.
“It’s encouraging that even a modest amount of training can produce these improvements because we know that treatment for breast cancer can accelerate the natural age-related loss of bone mass and thereby increase the risk of osteoporosis,” says Jacob Uth, assistant professor, and Ph.D. at University College Copenhagen, who has been the project leader in the study.
“The fact that balance and muscle strength are improved at the same time is a big plus because in the longer term this can reduce the risk of falls and broken bones,” he says.
Everyday activities become easier – but improving fitness requires more training
In another recently published article in the US journal Progress in Cardiovascular Diseases, the researchers show that the intensity is high, corresponding to a heart rate of more than 80% of maximum heart rate for 70% of the time the participants are playing with two goals. But this did not improve the participants’ fitness compared with the participants in the control group over the 12 months of the intervention.
On the other hand, the study showed that, after 6 months of Football Fitness training, the participants reported that health-related problems were less of a barrier to participating in and accomplishing everyday activities.
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