Soccer's simplicity -- all you need is a field, two nets and ball -- helps make it a very popular participation sport for kids and keeps it accessible to adults as well. If you want to play soccer, you can typically choose among school, club, intramural or recreational teams, depending on your age. In addition to the social benefits of joining a team, soccer offers regular exercise that helps in numerous ways.
Soccer players, with the exception of the goalkeeper, move up and down the field throughout the game, traveling as many as 5 to 7 miles in a full game. The constant walking, jogging and running helps keep the players' heart rates up, providing excellent cardiovascular exercise. The cardio workout helps players strengthen their hearts, resist plaque build-up in the coronary arteries, reduce their blood pressure and burn excess calories. The goalkeeper receives a cardio workout as well by moving within the goal crease. Additionally, keepers often train as hard as the field players during practice. In a 2010 study in Denmark, women who played 14 weeks of soccer improved their cardio fitness by 15 percent.
The running, jumping and kicking you do in soccer helps strengthen your muscles and bones. Simply being on your feet for as many as 90 minutes offers your legs an excellent workout. But your core, upper body and arm muscles also come into play, to assist or stabilize other movements such as kicking, jumping, tackling and blocking the ball with your chest. Additionally, you engage your upper back, chest and core when you head the ball. In the Danish study, the women soccer players improved their average bone density by 2 to 3 percent, the equivalent to reversing three to six years of bone aging.
In addition to the physical benefits, playing soccer is good for your brain. Soccer can be a fast-paced game that exercises your mind by requiring quick decisions on the field. Even when the tempo appears to slow down, players are constantly looking for territorial advantages, trying to position themselves to receive a pass or to defend an area the opponent may attack. To many, playing soccer is much like a more active chess game, with the best competitors always thinking several steps ahead.
Injuries will occur in soccer, particularly at higher levels of competition, but you can minimize your risk. Wear the proper protective gear, including soccer shoes and shin pads, plus gloves if you're a goalkeeper. Men should wear protective cups. Remain hydrated by drinking plenty of water or nonsugary sports drinks during games and practices. Warm up before matches and workouts with five to 10 minutes of light aerobic activity followed by dynamic stretching. If you become winded during a game, don't be shy about going to the bench and letting a teammate take your place for awhile.