8 October 2015

Research in football training offers new alternatives to medicine in the battle against lifestyle diseases

Four questions

Professor Peter Krustrup from Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports at University of Copenhagen answers four questions on the international success of the research project ´Football for Health´ which is undertaken in collaboration with FIFA and a number of organisations, municipalities and hospitals.

- by Katherina Killander, SCIENCE Communication.

Our research project “Football for Health” has grown at an explosive rate, and 150 researchers in 15 countries are now on board. The project analyses the health effects of football training for children, unfit adults, older men and women, homeless people and patient groups with high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and prostate cancer.

The project takes in a host of sub-projects in which we are collaborating with a number of municipalities, hospitals and patients’ associations. It also involves the major sports organisations such as the Danish FA, The Danish Sports Confederation (DIF), DGI, DFIF, Ombold and FIFA in the projects “Football Fitness”, “Intense School Sports - FIT FIRST”, “FIFA 11 for Health”, “FC Prostate” and “Homeless football”.

The collaboration with the hospitals includes Copenhagen University Hospital, Gentofte Hospital, Frederiksberg Hospital, Herlev Hospital and four other Danish hospitals, and involves recruiting patients into the major training project “FC Prostate Community”, where football training reduces side-effects like overweight, lower muscle mass, reduced muscular strength and weaker bones in men undergoing anti-hormone treatment for prostate cancer.

What do you hope to get out of it?

Based on the extensive research findings, we have developed new exercise concepts such as “Football Fitness”, “FC Prostate” and “Intense School Sports - FIT FIRST”. We have also worked with the homeless organisation Ombold on “Street football for the homeless” and with FIFA on the project “FIFA 11 for Health in Europe”. Denmark is leading the way in testing and evaluating this last project, which uses football activities as a platform for increasing health awareness, enjoyment and fitness in 10-12 year-old schoolchildren, and the plan is to extend the project to 30 western countries.

One of the other exercise concepts, called “Football Fitness”, is meant to make inactive Danes physically active and help to prevent and treat lifestyle diseases. Football Fitness is football training on small pitches, not involving matches but focussing on fun and social contact. Over 225 football clubs in Denmark are already offering Football Fitness, and the concept was recently introduced in the Faroe Islands. The number of active women in the Faroe Islands Football Association trebled in just four weeks. The Danish FA and the team here at Copenhagen University have ambitions to extend the concept to a large number of countries around the world.

Projects like “FIFA 11 for Health in Denmark” are helping to suggest ways of using the 45 minutes allocated to daily exercise in Danish schools to improve the health of schoolchildren. Last but not least, a project like “FC Prostate Community” shows how we can use motivational, social exercise as a nationwide offering to patient groups in collaboration with hospitals, sports organisations and research institutions.

Are there other concrete perspectives for the project and who is it relevant to?

The project has great future potential, at both national and international level. The exercise concepts can be implemented and evaluated on a larger scale, and other target groups and other hospitals can get involved. I am thinking here, for example, of ongoing projects involving team handball, basketball and unihockey, and of patient groups with other forms of cancer, such as women with breast cancer, Parkinson’s patients, depressives etc.

At the same time, we know that the DIF and the DGI are interested in focussing more on concepts like Floorball Fitness and Handball Fitness in their work on a “25-50-75” vision, whereby 50% of all Danes should be members of a sports club and 75% should be physically active by 2025. Overall, the project is relevant to all age-groups – whatever their ability and previous sporting experience.

What advantages do you see in forming partnerships between researchers and businesses?

Partnerships between researchers like ourselves and sports organisations, patients’ associations, hospitals, municipalities and foundations like the Nordea-fonden and the TrygFonden have been absolutely vital to the project’s enormous reach and success.

This collaboration has made such an extensive research effort possible and enabled the research findings to be published all over the world and turned into popular exercise concepts which have been rolled out on a large scale. The knowledge, skills, manpower resources and facilities of the partners have been crucial – not least because they enable us to engage a large number of subjects in our studies and get even better at making exercise recommendations to different population groups.


Professor Peter Krustrup
Mobile: +45 21 16 15 30