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Cardiovascular Benefits of Soccer as we watch the World Cup in 2022

Soccer, known as Football outside the United States, is the most popular sport in the world with over 3.5 billion fans worldwide. It is filled with physical activities ranging from sprinting to jogging which has great benefits for the heart and players are rarely on the pitch standing still. The current FIFA World Cup in Qatar, being held November 20th to December 18th of 2022 will shine the spotlight on Soccer, exposing it to a new generation of young fans and potential players.

With the aerobic activities in Soccer, the benefits you get involve multiple organs in the body. This includes lowering blood pressure, improving cholesterol levels and managing weight, in addition to improving mood, reducing anxiety and better sleep. Soccer is a team sport, and with it comes the benefit that players learn how to work with each other as a team.

In addition to the heart benefits, playing soccer also improves brain health, by improving aerobic capacity and oxygenated blood flow to the brain. Keeping the cardiovascular system healthy reduces the chance of stroke, which occurs when a clot blocks an artery in the brain preventing delivery of oxygenated blood, or can occur due to rupture of a blood vessel in the brain.

Perhaps just as importantly, soccer features the kinds of physical activity that can improve brain health, too, by boosting aerobic capacity and oxygen and blood flow to the brain. There is cognitive health improvement from playing soccer. Some studies suggested that the repeated hitting of the ball with the head might result in reduced cognitive function. However, a study published in 2021 showed that cognitive function of soccer players with high exposure to repetitive head impacts did not significantly differ from healthy non athletes individuals. These results are consistent with the fact that the benefit of athletic conditioning for brain health may be reduced by repetitive exposure to sub-concussive impacts.

The U.S. Soccer banned heading in 2015 for players 10 years and younger, while allowed headers for 11–12-year-olds in games but limited in practice. With the current research evidence, this does not seem to be warranted. Parents should be educated about the symptoms of concussion as related to any sport, rather than preventing their kids from playing soccer. The health benefits of soccer outweigh the risks, and that explains the worldwide popularity of the sport. With that being said, I wish the best luck for all the 32 teams from different countries participating in this FIFA 2022 World Cup.

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