The experts agree’if you want to stick to your fitness plan, you need to find something you love to do. For more and more people, that plan involves teammates, some wide-open space and a black and white ball. According to Sean Hayes, the official kinesiologist for the Canadian National Australian Rules Football team and the owner of Tuf Personal Fitness in Vancouver, B.C., soccer is a fantastic cross-training opportunity that has some mental benefits, too.
Improve your cardio
If logging miles on the treadmill bores you to tears, hit the soccer field instead to work on your cardio. Hayes explains that soccer players can travel a distance of eight to 12 kilometres each game. ‘The aerobic fitness demands of soccer increase the ability of the heart to pump blood to the muscles and helps clear the build-up of plaque inside the arteries, which is a sign of cardiovascular disease,’ he says. The benefits? You’ll enjoy a slower resting heart rate, a decrease in systolic blood pressure and a healthier working heart, Hayes says. Added bonus’you won’t get winded running up a couple flights of stairs.
Increase muscle tone and bone strength
Check out the gams on professional soccer players’not too shabby. And the rest of their bodies are pretty sculpted, too. ‘The very nature of soccer as a game of constant movement keeps the muscles engaged over long periods of time, which is great for overall muscle tone,’ says Hayes. Another benefit might not be as easy to admire in the mirror, but is just as important. ‘As [people] get older, bone density becomes more of an issue. The repeated weight-bearing loads on the body during a soccer match are an excellent way to increase the strength of our skeletal frame.’
As soccer increases your cardio capacity, it also improves your endurance. ‘An increase in aerobic capacity allows soccer players to run farther for a longer period of time,’ explains Hayes. Because soccer requires you to execute a variety of motions, it’s more beneficial than just parking yourself on the cross-trainer at the gym. ‘Soccer involves running, walking, sprinting and jumping. These movements require a great deal of endurance for an athlete to be able to play a full 90 minutes.’
Whether you want to be able to beat your kids at Wii Golf or just stop bumping into things, soccer can help. ‘Hand-eye coordination is improved when players either kick the ball or receive a pass from someone,’ says Hayes. ‘Body coordination is improved because of complex movements like dribbling, turning and passing, which are performed at varying rates of speed and direction.’ And better coordination means better results on the field. ‘A soccer player’s ability to react to her external environment is a valuable tool in the game.’
While you may think of your fitness goal as the one thing in your life that’s all about you, consider the idea that you can share that goal with others and take the lessons you learn on the field into the rest of your life. ‘The ability to work with others to reach a common goal is powerful when related to everyday life,’ explains Hayes. ‘For soccer players, personal goals are sometimes pushed aside by team goals, which can teach people to think in broader terms when relating these situations to work and home.’ That means you never have to feel selfish for taking that time out for yourself again.
It you’d like to strap on some cleats and try soccer out for yourself, Hayes suggests contacting a local soccer association for information on leagues in your area.
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