If you are like Marshall Gomes and hate gyms and don’t like working out, that doesn’t mean you cannot have an active and healthy lifestyle. Just play football. That’s exactly what Gomes, 29, a marketing executive from Kolkata, does. “I used to go… actually try… to go to the gym but I really didn’t like them and found the routine boring and tedious. Football, on the other hand, I love and can play every single day of the week. A 90-minute game is a better workout for me than a whole month in a gym,” he says.
Gomes is not wrong. Football is a very effective form of exercise which can be done just about anywhere as long as you have a ball and someone to play with. While it is predominantly an anaerobic activity, it also works as an aerobic workout, says Gautam Dagar, former captain of the Indian rugby team and a fitness expert who works with Delhi’s schools. He also runs a YouTube fitness channel called Train With Gautam. “It can be played everywhere and that makes it readily accessible, which makes it a great option for anyone who wants to be active. It improves cardiovascular health if you play it regularly and helps you keep away lifestyle diseases such as joint pain, arthritis, blood pressure and heart rate troubles as well as manage sugar-related issues,” says Dagar.
Football, apart from being a game people are passionate about, also serves as an excellent cardio substitute for those who are looking to achieve their weight targets. In Mumbai, brand solutions manager Shweta Mehta-Sen, 32, has turned to football as a fun way of managing her weight, along with her fitness. “I put on 10kg during the lockdown and I feel that I need more cardio-intensive workouts to supplement my gym days. This sport has also helped me boost my stamina, something I never had,” says Mehta-Sen, who has been playing football regularly for the last five. Football also helps improve reflexes, balance and reaction time while making one lighter on their feet, she adds from her own experience.
It is an anaerobic exercise where you work at a very high intensity in short bursts, says Dr Roonam Patir, a general physician in Delhi. “The advantage of football, compared to any form of aerobic exercise, is that your body continues to burn fats even after you stop playing,” he says. “However, if you are just starting out, it is a good idea to go slow lest you pick up injuries, including strains, sprains and stress fractures.”
Given the proliferation of well-lit artificial turfs for hire across the country, football today is more accessible than ever. Gomes, who used to play Under-19 football at the club level, says that the game has also helped him save money. “Instead of socialising with friends over drinks after a long day at work, I end up playing football at a turf nowadays. That costs a lot less than going to a pub or a restaurant and also ensures a proper workout for me.” Gomes says he wants to remain just fit enough to enjoy the game and keep lifestyle diseases away. “I don’t care much about my body shape and body image.”
The team game like football, where you have to interact with other people, is excellent for holistic fitness as it improves overall physical, mental and social development, says Dagar. The element of competition in football keeps people interested and invested better than working out in a gym. “A game like football also teaches you to respect your opponents and teammates and the importance of collaborating with others in order to be successful,” Dagar adds.
“Football is my favourite activity despite going to the gym regularly. The fact that I can meet people, talk to them and play a contact sport with them makes me forget briefly the times that we live in and transports me back to days when socialising was normal. Football has been great for my confidence and mental health too,” says Mehta-Sen. She now plays thrice a week. Before the pandemic, she used to play in a local club league in Mumbai, a mini tournament for recreational footballers.
Playing football is also a great stress buster for people who lead hectic lives and provides an outlet from the demands of office and business. “Playing football, even if just once a week, keeps me in a good mood and ensures that mentally I remain sharp and fit,” says Gomes. “It is actually cathartic to run and kick a ball around after a long day at work.”
Shrenik Avlani is the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.