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The calorie-burning game

Well, my little black toenail was a tad out of joint when I came across this study recently. A Danish sports scientist and his colleagues have concluded that soccer burns more fat than jogging.

"Does not," was my first reaction. "No way." Then I took a closer look at the study.

Peter Krustup and his team of researchers followed three groups for three months. The first was 14 untrained men between the ages of 20 and 40. They got together two or three times a week for an hour at a time for soccer practice. They were forming a team.

The players were tested for fitness level, muscle mass, percentage of body fat, blood pressure, insulin sensitivity and balance. They all showed significant improvements.

Krustup's team also tested a group of joggers as well as a group that did no exercise. The joggers showed improvement as well, but not as much as the soccer players. The soccer players lost 3.5 kilograms of body fat while the joggers lost about 2. The soccer players gained 2 kg of muscle mass. The joggers didn't gain any.

The group that did no exercise? Well, they showed no improvement.

Krustup believes the soccer players scored better because of the shifts between walking, running and sprinting. He adds that working together as a group also made a hard workout seem easier, so the guys were motivated to stick with it.

That makes sense. Anytime you mix up your workouts or do it with other people, you will reap greater benefits. Studies have shown that there are definite benefits to interval training — or short bursts of hard effort broken up by exercise at a more relaxed pace.

It's how the body gets stronger. The hard workout stresses your body, but you recover to a slightly higher fitness level than before the workout.

In an e-mail, Krustup told me that the joggers he followed did their workouts at "continuous moderate intensity running at the same average heart rate as the football players."

"The effects of interval training [on joggers] are likely to be more efficient," he said.

Krustup's looking more deeply into the topic and expects to publish more findings soon.

The bottom line is that any activity that raises your heart rate and keeps you engaged several times a week is going to lead to significant health benefits. It's a message that almost half of Canadians are not getting, according to a recent report from Statistics Canada.

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