Some people live to run. These folks are happy as long as they feel the track, trail or road beneath their feet. And then there are other runners who relish various cross-training activities to mix things up now and then. If your spicy garnish happens to be a game of soccer, you may be in luck. A team at the University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen University Hospital and Bispebjerg Hospital in Denmark have announced results from a research project that show playing soccer may have higher health benefits than jogging.
The sports scientists followed a soccer team consisting of 14 untrained men, as well as a group of 14 joggers and a passive control group for three months. The participants in both test groups trained in hourly sessions two to three times a week, keeping their average heart rates at 82 +/- 1 percent of HRmax. Each participant followed a controlled diet and was subjected to a number of tests representing his health and fitness levels, including total muscle mass, fat percentage, blood pressure, insulin sensitivity and balance
At the end of the 12-week period, both test groups showed beneficial effects. The blood pressure, insulin sensitivity and balance measurements in both groups improved. Yet, while the joggers lost 2kg of fat and experienced no change in total muscle mass, the soccer players lost 3.5 kg of fat and gained over 2 kg of muscle mass.
Sports scientist Peter Krustrup explains, “Soccer is an all-round form of practice because it both keeps the pulse up and has many high-intensity actions. When you sprint, jump and tackle your opponents, you use all the fibres in your muscles. When you jog at a moderate pace, you only use the slow fibres.”
When asked if they found the sessions hard, the soccer players generally responded not particularly, while the joggers found them difficult. Krustrup puts this discrepancy down to the different focus of each activity. When you are jogging, you focus on your body and how you feel. When you play soccer, you are concentrating more on the game. While the participants within each group trained together, the joggers were not always side by side as they had to maintain their own specified average heart rate.
Personally, I find running, alone or in a group, easier and more enjoyable than a round of “footy,” though the spirit of the argument seems to make sense. If you are in some way distracted from your exertion, you are more likely to be aware of the positive aspects of the activity and less focused on the negative. But, for those who freeze in fear at the suggestion of anything that requires skill and coordination with hard, fast-moving objects, jogging may still come out on top, regardless of the 1.5 kg difference in fat loss!