Veteran team sport players have great heart health

Introduction

We all know that physical activity is beneficial for several risk factors of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality. We also know that if we improve our aerobic fitness we increase our chances of living longer. However, despite this knowledge, the number of people meeting the recommendations for physical activity is lowest in older people. Why? Because with normal ageing, body fat increases and muscle mass decreases and these changes are more evident in the physically inactive than active people. Obesity is related to several metabolic and cardiovascular diseases and obese men have been shown to have 2.6 times higher mortality from cardiovascular disease than normal weight men.

Research has shown a strong relationship between low cardiorespiratory fitness and mortality in normal-weight, overweight, and obese men. Research has also shown that lean unfit men had higher risk ratios for cardiovascular and all-cause mortality than obese but fit men. These findings highlight the importance of endurance fitness in older people to prevent heart disease and live longer. Moreover, no differences in risk ratios were found between lean and obese but fit men.

Research has also shown that higher levels of endurance fitness are related to more vigorous training rather then low to moderate intensity endurance training.  In team sports, a recent study has shown that the exercise intensity is high during recreational soccer independent of age, gender, the level of training and social background and that recreational soccer is an effective health-promoting activity for untrained men and women aged 20–45 years.

But is recreational soccer a health-promoting activity for the very old? This study aimed to investigate whether lifelong participation in recreational soccer results in superior exercise capacity and cardiovascular health status for elderly (65-85 years old) in comparison to age-matched active men with no regular exercise training as well as strength-trained and endurance-trained elderly men.

Methods

A number of performance measures and indicators of cardiovascular health were measured in elderly soccer players (n = 11) compared to endurance-trained (n = 8), strength-trained (n = 7) and untrained (n = 7) age-matched men. The 33 men aged 65–85 years underwent a testing protocol including measurements of cycling performance, maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max) and body composition, with muscle fibre type and capillarisation determined from a muscle biopsy from the thigh.

Results

In the veteran soccer players, peak aerobic power on the bike was significantly greater (203 ± 20 watts) than in the untrained older men (150 ± 16 watts) and strength-trained men (156 ± 22 watts), but similar to the performance of the endurance-trained older men (201 ± 38 watts). Fat percentage was significantly lower in the veteran soccer players (21.8 ± 4.9%) than the untrained men (28.3 ± 2.1%) but not the endurance-trained (20.7 ± 4.4%) or strength-trained older men (21.7 ± 6.4%). VO2max was not significantly different in the soccer players (30.2 ± 4.9 ml O2 · min−1 · kg−1) compared to untrained (only 14% higher) and ST (only 9% higher), but 22% lower than the endurance-trained older men. The number of capillaries per fibre (a measuer of blood carrying capacity in muscles) was significantly higher  (almost double) in the soccer players compared to both the untrained and strength-trained men but similar to that of the endurance-trained men.

So what?

The scandinavian and UK researchers concluded that both the exercise performance and cardiovascular health profile of lifelong veteran soccer players are markedly better than for age-matched untrained males. Moreover, the exercise capacity and muscle aerobic capacity of veteran soccer players are also superior to lifelong strength-trained athletes and comparable to veteran endurance athletes. Given how important endurance capacity is for reducing cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality, the study strongly supports older individuals engaging in team sports to enhance the quality and quantity of life into older age.

Source: Randers and others (2014). . Journal of Sports Sciences, 32(13): 1300-1308.