Football Fans in Training: from sofa to stadium
As we get older, it’s easy to fall into the habit of watching sport rather than playing it. Dr Chris Bunn from the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Health and Wellbeing tells us about the Football Fans in Training programme which is helping men get back into playing the beautiful game ― and losing weight in the process.
Since Italia ’90 and Gazza’s tears, the spectacle of two national teams passionately doing battle for football’s ultimate bragging right has never failed to capture my imagination.
As a youngster, the sedentary hours spent watching World Cup games were always offset by the hours spent playing football at parks, in training sessions, on the playground and in competitive matches. But as I’ve aged, I’ve found my passion for watching the beautiful game now outstrips the capacity for playing it.
Whilst I keep as active as my life allows, I have to take care not to fall into the trap that many men succumb to: that of the eternal spectator.
The Football Fans in Training (FFIT) programme was designed to help men who, like me, often find it easier to watch football than play it. FFIT encourages men who have put on more weight than they would like to take a look at their lifestyles and work out how to change them, with the help and support of a club coach and fellow football fans.
The men that participate in FFIT attend club stadia once a week for 12 weeks and are guided through a variety of ways to eat less and exercise more. As they learn and exercise together, the banter that football fans do so well tends to flow and a team spirit that helps the group pursuit of weight loss is built.
At the heart of the programme is the simple recommendation to track how many steps you walk in a day, using a pedometer, and to try to increase this as each week progresses.
And it works. We recently published a randomised controlled trial in The Lancet (1) which showed that the FFIT programme is effective in helping overweight men lose a clinically significant amount of weight.
Many of the men who have participated in FFIT have found that this tried-and-tested method of doing more physical activity can lead to much bigger things.
Since the programme began, more than 2,000 men have done FFIT through SPFL clubs all over Scotland. Many FFIT graduates have been inspired to do more after finishing the programme: between them they have completed numerous Kilt Walks, undertaken the Three Peaks Challenge, formed football teams and run 10k races.
Not bad for guys who, by their own admission, had allowed themselves to watch more sport than they participated in. FFIT is a great example about how getting fitter, losing weight and doing more exercise can also be fun ― and it brings you closer to others who share a passion for the beautiful game.
FFIT is a collaborative venture between the MRC Social and Public Health Science Unit based in Glasgow, the Institute of Health and Wellbeing at the University of Glasgow and the Scottish Professional Football League Trust.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.
(1) Hunt et al. A gender-sensitised weight loss and healthy living programme for overweight and obese men delivered by Scottish Premier League football clubs (FFIT): a pragmatic randomised controlled trial. The Lancet. 2014. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(13)62420-4.
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