Men who love their football club enough to attend lifestyle advice sessions at its stadium lost weight, ate more healthily and reduced their risk of dying, according to a study.
Fans of teams including Arsenal, Everton and Manchester City enjoyed a significant boost to their health after 12 90-minute classes at their grounds.
The study looked at 1,113 men aged between 30 and 65 who follow 15 clubs in England, Portugal, the Netherlands and Norway. Participants saw “significant improvements in diet, weight, wellbeing, self-esteem, vitality and biomarkers of cardiometabolic health”, the authors found.
Men attended the sessions as part of the EU-funded EuroFIT programme, which aims to use football’s strong appeal to persuade men to overhaul their lifestyles. It uses the lustre of their club and the venue where they usually go as a fan to cheer them on to encourage participation.
Fans of Newcastle United and Stoke City were also involved in the scheme, which is being extended to more European countries.
In a paper in the journal PLOS Medicine, the study’s authors say their findings confirm that “engaging men in physical activity through programmes that work with existing constructs of masculinity is a promising route for promoting men’s health”.
They found that participants in the randomised control trial began walking an average of 678 steps a day more than those who were waiting to join the programme as a result of coming to the sessions, which they termed a “substantial” increase. Doctors generally recommend at least 10,000 steps a day to promote good health.
Participants’ activity levels were monitored by a device called a SitFIT which they carried in their pocket. In addition, a game-based app called MatchFIT encouraged them to meet and undertake activities together in between the sessions, which were delivered by football coaches.
The scheme is designed to help men reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes or having a heart attack or stroke, rather than treating an existing condition.
Sally Wyke, the programme’s principal investigator, who is a professor of health and wellbeing at the University of Glasgow, said: “Gender-sensitised lifestyle programmes delivered in professional football clubs show great promise in Europe and could play an important health role in engaging under-served men.”
When attendees were monitored a year after they had finished the scheme, efforts to overhaul the men’s diets had worked. Participants continued to eat more fruit and vegetables and less fat and sugar.
However, other benefits of the scheme were less enduring. The participants were no longer any more active than men who had not yet been on the programme. They also said they had not experienced any increase in their quality of life.