Soccer Better Exercise Than Running for Women
Women who want to get the most benefit from their exercise may want to trade in their running shoes for soccer cleats. Results of a two-year study show that women benefit more physically, emotionally, and socially from playing recreational soccer than from running.
The study evaluated 100 untrained premenopausal women who were randomly assigned to one of three groups: soccer, running, or control. The women in the soccer and running groups (total of 65 women) trained for one hour twice a week. At weeks 4 and 16, all the study participants underwent extensive physiological tests. The 65 women in the training groups plus another 35 women who belonged to soccer clubs were observed and questioned throughout the study to identify the sociological and psychological effects of their training.
Although running is an activity people can engage in alone and on their own schedule, the researchers learned that women found it easier to stick to soccer than to running. The difference was motivation: while runners were motivated by improving their health and getting in shape, the soccer players enjoyed the social aspect of the activity, and in the process the soccer players were in better physical shape than the runners.
According to the study’s authors, soccer integrates both cardiovascular and strength training, as it involves running, sprints, kicking, turning, and tackling. Women in the soccer group showed marked improvement in muscle mass, endurance, sprinting ability, and maximal oxygen uptake after the 16-week training period. A similar study was conducted in 2008 among untrained males, and the researchers in that trial also observed physical improvements in the soccer players compared with runners, although the social aspects were not examined.
Once the training portion of the study ended, the women in the soccer group tended to continue their soccer training as a group. Most of the women from the running group, however, did not continue running, although some of them joined teams with the soccer group.
In the United States, most women’s experience with soccer (called football abroad) has been limited to playing the sport during high school gym class. Yet the popularity of soccer for girls and women has been increasing in the past few years. In September 2007, for example, the Women’s Professional Soccer organization was formed, and it began play in March 2009. Community soccer teams are now common for both boys and girls, and the number of community teams for women players is also rising. Women who want to experience the camaraderie and social advantages of soccer along with the superior physical benefits may want to consider the sport.
Bangsbo N et al. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports 2009 Oct.
Rustrup P et al. British Journal of Sports Medicine 2008 Dec 22
Women’s Professional Soccer