Have diabetes? Playing soccer may gain you 10 years of heart health

Move over, soccer moms.

Men with type 2 diabetes who play the sport can improve heart function, lower blood pressure and increase exercise capacity, according to a new study out of Denmark.

The research, published in Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise, investigated how soccer training affected 21 men between the ages of 37 and 60 with type 2 diabetes.

Gain back years of your life?

The men engaged in small-sided games of five-on-five players, and after just three months of playing, cardiac tissue in the men's hearts was working 29 percent faster. Jakob Friis Schmidt, co-author of the study, said this means the heart had essentially become 10 years younger in just several weeks.

"Many type 2 diabetes patients have less flexible heart muscles which is often one of the first signs of diabetes' effect on cardiac function, increasing the risk of heart failure," Schmidt said in a press release.

Ultrasounds also revealed that the heart's contraction phase improved and the capacity of the heart to shorten was improved by 23 percent - a finding that hasn't been reported with other types of exercise.

At the beginning of the study, 60 percent of the men also had high blood pressure - a problem that was greatly reduced by the soccer training. The reduction, in fact, was comparable to the results that would be achieved by taking high blood pressure medication, researchers said.

Exercise capacity improved

The men also showed a 42 percent improvement in overall exercise capacity, and oxygen uptake was increased by 12 percent. Improving physical condition can help patients decrease their risk of developing other types of illnesses associated with type 2 diabetes, the researchers noted.

"The results of the study, coupled with participants' interest in continuing to play after the study, show that soccer has a great potential to help diabetic patients," they concluded. "This does not only gain the patients, but also contributes socio-economically."

Source: University of Copenhagen

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