Hypertension and Soccer

The first line of treatment for high blood pressure should be lifestyle changes, key components of which are diet and exercise.  While the specifics of diet are fairly well worked out, whether or not one form of exercise is better than another is less clear.

While we still don’t have a definite answer, a study out of England (Krustrup, Peter; Randers, Morten B.; Andersen, Lars J.; Jackman, Sarah R.; Bangsbo, Jens; Hansen, Peter R. Soccer Improves Fitness and Attenuates Cardiovascular Risk Factors in Hypertensive Men. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 2012; DOI: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3182777051) documents that soccer training lowers blood pressure along with some other benefits.

The study worked with 33 men in their 30’s,40’s and early 50’s with mild to moderate hypertension.  Half were referred to their family doctors and consuled on the importance of diet and exercise.  The other half participated in an hour of soccer training twice a week.

After six months the soccer group were doing much better.  They lost more weight, had better fitness levels, had a lower heart rate and, most dramatically,  much lower blood pressure.

I was impressed that the total exercise time, two hours, was relatively small.  And I like the idea that it’s a game.  I could be fun.  It certainly sounds better than pounding out hours on the treadmill.

Of course this doesn’t answer the question of whether or not there is one exercise that’s better for controlling blood pressure than any other.  I suspect that there isn’t one specific exercise that’s best but I so think some generalizations are beginning to emerge.

More and more evidence indicates that the most effective form of exercise for most people who are able to do it (this is not the way for someone with serious heart disease to exercise unless under a doctor’s supervision) is short, intense periods alternating with easy session.

It used to be called interval training and more recently HIIT (high intensity training).  You can check out this reference (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-intensity_interval_training) concerning this form of exercise but if you think about what a soccer game is like I think you’ll agree that it’s a lot like interval training – periods of moving relatively slowly followed by intense sprints.

A lot of the drills you’d do at a soccer practice look like interval training. That is, short intervals of high-intensity sprinting interspersed with longer periods of less vigorous activity. Add to that the coordination and ability to change directions rapidly that soccer requires and you have a demanding, varied workout.

Other workouts could probably do the same for you, but if you enjoy soccer go for.

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