This article is from the In-Depth Report Science and Soccer's World Cup
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Pickup Soccer Helps Homeless Health

Homeless men who played soccer a few times a week had improved cardiovascular health and a lower risk of death. Cynthia Graber reports

It sounds either really crazy, or kind of obvious. But according to new research, pick-up soccer could help homeless men avert the risk of an early death.

Homeless people are known to have poor health and life expectancy. Due to a variety of factors, including in large part cardiovascular disease. The homeless have high levels of hypertension and are more likely to be addicted to smoking, alcohol and other drugs. They also don’t spend much time in high-intensity physical exercise. Gyms, even when free, haven’t proven to be appealing.

So researchers recruited 55 homeless men living in Copenhagen to join in the soccer study. Half were assigned pick-up games, two or three times a week, for 12 weeks. And half served as the control. The scientists measured the men’s body composition, blood lipid profile, blood pressure and maximal oxygen uptake before and after.

Those who played soccer reduced their body fat and and LDL cholesterol. Perhaps most significantly, their maximal oxygen uptake increased 11 percent. The study is in the European Journal of Applied Physiology. [Morten B. Randers et al., "Short-term street soccer improves fitness and cardiovascular health status of homeless men"]

Previous studies suggest that such an oxygen increase can greatly lower the risk of death. That’s a game with a win-win outcome.

—Cynthia Graber

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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