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Broad-spectrum physical fitness benefits of recreational football: a systematic review and meta-analysis
  1. Zoran Milanović1,2,
  2. Saša Pantelić1,
  3. Nedim Čović3,
  4. Goran Sporiš4,
  5. Magni Mohr5,6,7,
  6. Peter Krustrup7,8
  1. 1 Faculty of Sport and Physical Education, University of Nis, Nis, Serbia
  2. 2 Science and Research Centre Koper, Institute for Kinesiology Research, Koper, Slovenia
  3. 3 Faculty of Sport and Physical Education, University of Sarajevo, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
  4. 4 Faculty of Kinesiology, University of Zagreb, Zagreb, Croatia
  5. 5 Center of Health and Performance, Department of Food and Nutrition and Sport Science, University of Gothenburg, Gothenburg, Sweden
  6. 6 Centre of Health Science, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of the Faroe Islands, Torshavn, Faroe Islands
  7. 7 Department of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics, SDU Sport and Health Sciences Cluster (SHSC), Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark
  8. 8 Sport and Health Sciences, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Zoran Milanović, Faculty of Sport and Physical Education, University of Niš, Niš 18000, Serbia; zoooro_85{at}


Background A previous meta-analysis showed that maximal oxygen uptake increased by 3.51 mL/kg/min (95% CI 3.07 to 4.15) during a recreational football programme of 3–6 months in comparison with continuous moderate-intensity running, strength training or a passive control group. In addition, narrative reviews have demonstrated beneficial effects of recreational football on physical fitness and health status.

Objective The purpose of this systematic review and meta-analysis was to evaluate the magnitude of effects of recreational football on blood pressure, body composition, lipid profile and muscular fitness with reference to age, gender and health status.

Design Systematic review and meta-analysis.

Data sources MEDLINE, PubMed, SPORTDiscus, Web of Science, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL) and Google Scholar were searched prior to 1 February 2017. In addition, Google Scholar alerts were set up in January 2012 to identify potential papers with the following key terms: recreational football, recreational soccer, street football and street soccer.

Eligibility criteria for selecting studies Randomised and matched controlled trials with participants allocated to a recreational football group or any other type of exercises or passive control group were included. Training programmes had to last at least 2 weeks to meet the inclusion criteria. The primary outcome measures were blood pressure, resting heart rate, body composition, muscular fitness, and blood lipids and glucose tolerance. A total of 31 papers met the inclusion criteria and were included.

Results The effect of recreational football on systolic blood pressure (SBP) versus no-exercise controls was most likely extremely largely beneficial (effect size (ES)=4.20 mm Hg; 95% CI 1.87 to 6.53). In addition, a most likely very large beneficial (ES=3.89 mm Hg; 95% CI 2.33 to 5.44) effect was observed for diastolic blood pressure (DBP), when compared with non-active groups. Furthermore, a most likely extremely large beneficial effect was shown for SBP and DBP in participants with mild hypertension (11 and 7 mm Hg decrease, respectively) and participants with prehypertension (10 and 7 mm Hg decrease, respectively). Meta-analysis of recreational football determined the impact on resting heart rate as most likely extremely largely beneficial (ES=6.03 beats/min; 95% CI 4.43 to 7.64) when compared with non-active groups. The observed recreational football effect on fat mass was most likely largely beneficial (ES=1.72 kg; 95% CI 0.86 to 2.58) and the effect on countermovement jump (CMJ) performance was most likely very largely beneficial (ES=2.27 cm; 95% CI 1.29 to 3.25) when compared with non-active groups. Possibly beneficial decreases were found in low-density lipoprotein levels (ES=0.21 mmol/L; 95% CI 0.06 to 0.36). Possibly largely beneficial effect was observed for DBP in comparison with continuous running training. Small harmful and unclear results were noted for SBP, fat and lean body mass, body mass index, as well as muscular fitness when compared with running and Zumba training.

Conclusion The present meta-analysis demonstrated multiple broad-spectrum benefits of recreational football on health-related physical fitness compared with no-exercise controls, including improvements in blood pressure, resting heart rate, fat mass, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol and CMJ performance. Additionally, recreational football is efficient and effective as Zumba and continuous running exercise regimens with highlighted social, motivational and competitive components.

  • football
  • health promotion
  • physical fitness

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  • Contributors ZM, SP and NČ selected the studies and extracted the data. ZM and GS analysed the data. ZM, NČ and PK were responsible for conception and design, and drafting and revising the manuscript. ZM, PK and MM wrote the paper, and all authors commented on the paper and approved the final version.

  • Funding This research received no specific grant from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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