Soccer has cardiovascular activities that benefit the brain and heart. Players rarely stand still, from fullbacks sprinting back to prevent a counterattack to midfielders jogging up the other end to build up play.
The quadrennial World Cup, played in Qatar until Dec. 18, will shine a spotlight on what’s known as the “beautiful game,” exposing the sport to perhaps a new generation of young fans and potential players.
“With soccer comprised of highly aerobic forms of activity and exercise, the benefits you get go across the board,” said Dr. Ilan Danan, a neurologist at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles.
Positive outcomes of regular physical activity include helping manage weight, lower blood pressure, and improve cholesterol levels. Regular exercise can also improve mood, reduce anxiety, and lead to better sleep.
“Then factor in how soccer is a team sport and how younger players can learn to work with others in a team,” said Danan, who has consulted several Los Angeles sports teams, including Major League Soccer’s LA Galaxy.
Perhaps just as importantly, soccer features the kinds of physical activity that can improve brain health, too, by boosting aerobic capacity, oxygen, and blood flow to the brain.
Keeping blood vessels healthy can reduce the chance of a stroke, which occurs when a clot blocks a blood vessel in the brain or when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures. A 2020 study in Mayo Clinic Proceedings found that better cardiorespiratory fitness could contribute to improved brain health.
Studies also highlighted risks to cognitive health from playing soccer. For instance, a 2018 study in the journal Frontiers in Neurology suggested that consistently hitting the ball with your head, or “headers,” may lead to worse cognitive function than accidental head collisions or recognized concussions.