Statistics show that more Americans are obese than ever before and despite the craze for exercise and joining a gym, many people would do well to add to their existing regime. Playing sports is not just a fun pastime and social experience, but it is an easy and quick way to lose weight and feel confident and secure. The health benefits of athletics are legion, so pick a sport and get out there for a change of pace. For example, you can play organized team soccer or just have a casual game. Whatever you do, it totally counts as a workout if done for a sufficient period of time, even scrolling on Facebook. I am a personal trainer, so I hope my opinion counts. As a fitness buff, I can’t ignore the calorie-burning outcome of a rousing soccer match or even practice session. I tout circuit training in the gym and all kinds of toning alternatives; but I know in my heart that nothing is like a fast-paced game of soccer. Okay, you can swim, play baseball, basketball, or football—you can even go bowling. As long as you are moving, my goals for you will be met.

Let’s take a look at the health benefits of soccer. It builds agility and endurance for one. Who doesn’t want that? While it is recreational and competitive, it can be played for exercise to improve cardiovascular health and increase aerobic capacity at the same time. Just think of all the running that takes place. Soccer players are known for their fast recovery from a sprint. I am told that the average player runs five to seven miles during a game, based on what I’d read in Top Corner Magazine. Wow! They must have good hearts. No plaque buildup for these folks. If you are worried about aging, get in a game now.

Other health benefits include lower blood pressure, reduced body fat, and increased muscle tone and strength. Switching from aerobic to anaerobic energy pathways does a lot of good. There is so much variety between the kicking, jumping, tackling, not to mention twisting and turning. It is a powerful and explosive activity in which the whole body is utilized. It doesn’t end here. Better bone strength is a byproduct. As a trainer, I appreciate how soccer teaches coordination (especially hand eye) and fosters the ability to complete complex movements by turning, dribbling, and passing. Players must execute these feats at different rates of speed and in opposing directions. What a way to build confidence and self-esteem.

I believe in any game that promotes teamwork and sharing. Thus, beyond the physiological benefits, there are also psychological ones. Think of the camaraderie and social enrichment. I would add the benefit to cognitive brain function in terms of concentration, self-discipline, and strategy. Some say sports, like exercise, reduces anxiety. I know that I feel better when I have maximum physical strength. It impacts not only sports and workout performance, but also how you do in school, your career, and family life. Give me those fabulous feel-good endorphins!