Soccer: Best Exercise on Earth?

Billions of players worldwide can't be wrong
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Billions of players worldwide can't be wrong

After a decade spent writing and reporting on endurance sports, training, and fitness, I’ve come to the bittersweet conclusion that soccer is the best sport for superior all-round fitness and health. Think about it, in a 60-minute league or pick-up game, soccer players will run about five miles. They’ll do a ton of anaerobic sprint intervals of varying lengths. All those quick changes of direction hone their agility. Every booming kick requires and builds core strength. The coordiantion involved in playing the game helps keep the mind-body connections sharp. The running spurs the body to strengthen joints and bones—that all adds up to one hell of a workout.

(And to those naysayers who bash me for soccer’s complete lack of upper-body and arm work, I respond with this: I know scores of people who’ve grown frail from weak legs, but I haven’t met one who blamed their inactivity and frailty on weak arms.)

I can also attest to the fact that the people who seem to be strong and ready for anything (ski mountaineering, mountain bike race, marathons, even hoops) are those who play a regular weekly game or two of soccer. And over the years, I’ve noticed that soccer is used as the cross-training sport of choice for a growing population of pro skiers, tennis players, snowboarders, and basketball players (NBA MVP Steve Nash, for one). They play it for all the reasons I listed above and because they also enjoy the team/social aspect of it. I can see why. When you get right down to it, a soccer game is fun.

Unfortunately for me—this is the bittersweet part—I have zero coordination. I’m even awful at goalie. While I find soccer to be a beautiful game, it’s an ugly nightmare for me. That’s why I don’t play it. I’m looking for my exercise regimen to offer small victories and satisfaction, not complete humilation. That’s my loss. Hopefully, my humble opinion turns into your gain.