Emory University | Woodruff Health Sciences Center
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The benefits of adult team sports

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Everybody knows exercise is crucial to good health, but only about two in 10 adult Americans get the recommended level of physical activity each week. A big reason—many people’s opinions of traditional exercise range from not fun to torturous.

Rollins researchers led by Dr. Felipe Lobelo, associate professor of global health, found that recreational team sports may be a good alternative for inactive adults. The variety of movement patterns associated with team sports—sprints, bursts of intense action, changes in direction and acceleration, muscle loading—provide a combination of aerobic, endurance, and resistance training. A meta-analysis of published literature on the topic revealed that compared with control subjects, people who participated in recreational group sports saw important reductions in weight, percentage of body fat, blood pressure, and lipid levels, and large increases in aerobic fitness, which can translate into reduced risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Group sports participants also reported lower levels of perceived exertion than those who jogged, did strength training, or ran intervals, possibly because for some, team sports tend to be more social and fun than solitary exercise. That could explain why people who play group sports tend to stick with them longer and attend sessions more often than those in traditional exercise interventions.

“The results of this study can have important clinical and population health implications,” says Lobelo. “For some of us, playing group sports can be an appealing way to remain active. Broader implementation of programs using group sports as a vehicle to deliver lifestyle change can help reduce the growing burden of physical inactivity.”

Lobelo’s Exercise Is Medicine research group is currently conducting a program using recreational soccer for Latino men at risk of diabetes and plans to translate it to other populations, ages, genders, and team sports.

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