This article was originally published here.


Football has received much attention of late, as those researching in this area share their data, insight, findings and recommendations. There are a number of groups researching in this areas, who have made substantial contributions including colleagues at the University of Glasgow, Leeds Beckett University, the University of Copenhagen and Manchester Metropolitan University.

The areas of research cover controlled trials, laboratory testing and applied research in football clubs. With this, few articles have pooled and analysed the existing research (in excess of 150 peer reviewed articles), therefore this post highlights what we know so far and what needs to be done.

The research has been undertaken by Dr Dan Parnell, Dr Ed Cope (University of Hull), Dr Richard Bailey (International Council of Sport Science and Physical Education), Dr Kathryn Curran (Leeds Beckett University) and Professor Peter Krustrup (University of Copenhagen). The research is published in the peer-reviewed journal Sport in Society and can be found here. 

What works?

 The knowledge base behind the health effects of football reveals:

  • that recreational football training conducted as small-sided games (3v3 to 7v7) (45-60 min for up to 3 times per/week) has a substantial and broad fitness and health benefits for participants across the lifespan and for a number of patient groups through controlled tests
  • these effects are present irrespective of gender, social status and participants’ prior football experience, and include a range of positive physiological responses.

We also know that health improvement interventions led by (professional) football clubs can:

  • increase awareness of health services
  • increased engagement within physical activity and behavior change interventions
  • can deliver positive health changes in participants across the lifespan (including hard-to-reach groups).

In light of these findings, the power of football for health is clear worth considering as part of the strategy to promote public health. The evidence is clear real investment and action must now take place.


6-steps to make this happen

The research also offer a number of practical considerations for policy makers, managers, practitioners and researchers to help increased the effectiveness of football-led physical health interventions. Therefore, whilst not an exhaustive list, there are a number of considerations that can help make this happen:

(1)     small-sided football training should be introduced gradually in terms of frequency of weekly training and in terms of time

(2)     the size of the pitch should be adjusted to meet the number of participants (80 m2 per participant)

(3)     to have an marked impact on the cardiovascular system, average heart rates should be around 80% of maximal heart rate (HRmax), with substantial time spent about 90% HRmax (even for older participants or special populations)

(4)     measure and evaluation of the intensity of programmes should be undertaken with delivery organisations should seek to skill-up or collaborate with evaluation partners or academic institutes

(5)     professional football clubs and the brand of football should be used to recruit and engage participants across the lifespan and finally

(6)     coaches and practitioners should engage in relevant and continued professional development to ensure they can capitalise on the physical (and psycho-social) benefits of football based interventions.


To cite this research:

Parnell, D., Cope, E., Bailey, R., Krustrup, P., & Curran, K. (2016). Football and Physical Health: What do we know? Sport in Society. DOI: 10.1080/17430437.2016.1207787 (also found here).


Dan Parnell can be contacted via email or follow @parnell_daniel on Twitter or access his research here.