Walking soccer promotes health and keeps many people exercising well into old age

Physical activity, social interaction, and a sense of community are among the effects of walking soccer—known in the United States as walking soccer—an increasingly popular senior sport now being addressed in a Swedish scientific study. Research results show that sports promote health and keep many people exercising well into old age.

The study was carried out jointly by the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences (GIH), the University of Gothenburg’s Center for Health and Performance (CHP) and the Swedish Football Association (SvFF), within the framework of its “Walk”. Football for Health” project.

Walking football is similar to the regular version of the game (soccer) but is usually played on a smaller pitch, with fewer players per team and at a walking pace. The player must always have one foot touching the ground. Some studies have analyzed how sports can improve physical and mental health and promote social interaction. However, previous studies have largely focused on older men, and there is a paucity of studies in a Swedish setting.

Field and laboratory testing

In the present study, 65 foot soccer players from three clubs (Enskede IK, IFK Viksjö, and IF Elfsborg) were included. Players participated in four field trials of six-player teams in two halves of 20 minutes each. Once, participants underwent various laboratory tests of performance, including strength, fitness, balance, and jumping ability. They were also asked to fill out a questionnaire about walking football, socio-demographic variables (age, gender, education, etc.), lifestyle and health.

The investigated group consisted of 45 men and 20 women, with an average age of 71 years, whose health profile was similar to that of the general population of the same age. Two-thirds were overweight (BMI above 25), and nearly half had been diagnosed with high blood pressure.

Compared to the general population, walking footballers had slightly higher fitness, grip strength, balance, leg strength, and jumping ability. Their physical activity patterns, measured on pedometers over seven days, were comparable to those of young people (ages 50–64) in the general population.

GPS data showed that participants covered an average distance of 2.4 kilometers (2.5 for men and 2.2 for women) during a 40-minute walking soccer match. Their average heart rate was 131 beats per minute in the first half and 133 in the second. On the 20-point Borg Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale, participants ranked 12.1 for the first half and 12.9 for the second.

Intensity suitable for many

Both before and after the soccer walking session, participants’ self-rated well-being was relatively high. The main reasons for participating in organized walking football were socializing with others, exercise and physical training, being part of a group and team, and having played football before and found they missed it.

“Overall, the results show that a 40-minute walking soccer session is a moderate-intensity activity for the target group studied,” says GIH University Lecturer Helena Andersson, who is now active at Umeå University.

“The study also shows that the participants in this group not only feel good and are already active, but come from different backgrounds and walks of life. This opens the way for more people to be included and stay active into old age,” says Alain Ekblom Bach, University Lecturer at GIH. .

Walking football is often prescribed in accordance with the Swedish method of physical activity, which is aimed at preventing and treating disease. To incorporate walking soccer into the methodology we intend to proceed with an intervention study where walking soccer is tested as a treatment. “

Professor Mats Börjesson, University of Gothenburg

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