Friday, November 9, 2012

Why Soccer Players Are Smarter

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Frequent heading of a soccer ball isn’t good for your brain..., but it’s not all bad news for participants of the world’s most popular sport: Soccer players are significantly smarter than, well, pretty much everyone, according to a new study in PLoS ONE.

When professional soccer players were tested on “executive function”—a key aspect in memory, multitasking, and creativity—they scored significantly higher than the general population. In fact, elite players belonged to the best 2 to 5 percent of the total population...

Why? Soccer players have to adapt constantly to a rapidly changing environment to perform well, says Petrovic. That’s easily translated to tests of executive functions like changing strategies and suppressing old, outdated plans, he adds.

“People assume that if you have a gifted arm or can kick a ball that you aren’t smart, you don’t need to be smart, or both,” says Kristen Dieffenbach, Ph.D., professor at West Virgina University. “High-level sport is physically demanding and requires high-level cognitive skills.”

“There’s a saying in soccer: You’re either physically gifted, or a student of the game,” says Kerry Zavagnin, assistant coach for the Sporting Kansas City and 11-time member of the U.S. Men’s National Team. “Someone who can read situations and think about solutions instead of always relying on the physical component is a student of the game—that’s how I played...”

Why Soccer Players Are Healthier

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It’s the world’s most popular sport—and a great way to lower your blood pressure. A study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that playing soccer 2 days a week had a bigger effect on blood pressure than moderate daily exercise.

Researchers recruited 33 men between the ages of 33 and 54 with high blood pressure and randomly divided them into two groups—one that played soccer twice a week for one hour, and one that was told to exercise daily for 30 to 45 minutes at a moderate pace. After six months, the soccer players saw their blood pressure drop twice as much as the non-players…

“Higher-intensity exercise does have a whole different impact on the body’s physiology,” says cardiologist Eric Topol, M.D., director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute and a Men’s Health expert advisor. Your heart rate is higher and your blood vessels are more dilated than with moderate exercise. This high level of stress—which moderate exercise can’t provide—forces your body into overtime to adapt. That might be why soccer lowers your blood pressure better than moderate exercise, says Dr. Topol.

“Soccer is a terrific sport in terms of overall conditioning,” says Todd Durkin, C.S.C.S., founder of Fitness Quest 10 and author of The Impact Body Plan. It combines lots of different running speeds with intense spurts of acceleration—a hard combo to beat because your body never gets the chance to fully recover before going again. That level of intensity keeps your body stressed to the point where it’s forced to adapt, says David Maron, M.D., a cardiologist at Vanderbilt University’s medical center. Your body reacts by building more blood vessels that lower your blood pressure and make your entire cardiovascular system more efficient…