Playing football is better for your health than going for a run or lifting weights, researchers have said.
The intensity and range of movements involved in the game, including kicks, twists, turns and sprints, provide better overall exercise, according to a series of studies.
And five-a-side is more beneficial than a full-scale game, as it ensures that all players get a vigorous workout.
Prof Peter Krustrup, from Copenhagen University, who reviewed the research and was part of the team which carried out some of the studies, said that the sustained, stop-start nature of the game helped to build long-term fitness and burn fat.
It can help cut the risk of heart disease, by reducing blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and was also a good way to lose weight, according to the studies by 50 researchers in seven countries.
It is better than lifting weights and as good, if not better, than running, because of its benefits for the heart, Prof Krustrup added.
And he claimed that the results of the research suggest that football could be recommended as part of treatment for health problems such as high-blood pressure.
"Football affects numerous cardiovascular risk factors such as oxygen uptake, heart function, blood pressure, cholesterol and fat mass far more than strength training and just as much if not more than running,” he said.
“It is well-known that physical inactivity is a substantial risk factor in developing (heart) diseases in itself, but it is new that a pleasurable team sport like soccer is effective in treating high blood pressure.”
One of the studies asked 47 men with high blood pressure to play football or to run for an hour twice a week for three months.
Those playing the game saw their blood pressure fall by an average of twice as much as those in the running group.
Both groups lost similar amounts of weight but cholesterol levels fell among the footballers, an effect not seen in the running group.
Other studies found that football increased bone density twice as much as running.
The research is due to be published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports.
The group now plan to test whether football is better for the health than other ball games, such as basketball or volleyball.
Telegraph Media Group Limited