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Staying healthy need not be a chore. An hour of football three times a week keeps you physically and mentally fit – and is fun too.

The health of the 250 million people who play football worldwide is central concern of FIFA, and the world governing body is now able to do more in this area than ever before, because the results of scientific studies have proved what many in the football family have thought for a long time: in the long term, regular exercise, such as playing football, is the best guarantee of health.
In 1997, the World Health Organization (WHO) named lack of exercise as the most frequent cause of coronary artery disease. Since then, our understanding of the fatal consequences of physical inactivity has steadily increased. The typical image of a heart attack candidate used to be a man who smokes with high blood pressure and high blood lipid levels, but today the risk profile for cardiovascular disease is very different. The main risk factor is obesity, the epidemic of our times. Anyone with a body mass index (weight in kg/height in m2) of over 25 is said to be overweight.
“More important than the BMI, however, is where the fat is – it is particularly dangerous in and around the abdomen,” explains Professor Jiri Dvorak, FIFA’s chief medical officer. Your belt size is a useful guide. For men it should be below 94 cm, for women 80cm. Belt sizes greater than 102 cm and 88cm respectively significantly increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Scientifically, obesity is considered a chronic inflammatory disease. Various substances are produced in the fat tissue that trigger inflammatory reactions in other parts of the body such as the arteries, and thus other diseases such as arteriosclerosis.
Yet there is no reason for people who simply cannot lose weight to despair, because studies have shown that regular exercise can compensate for a few excess kilos. It has a beneficial effect on normal-weight, overweight and obese individuals alike. Exercise lowers the blood pressure, for example, independently of weight. Unfit persons of normal weight are three times more likely to die at a young age than overweight ones who exercise. Becoming more active and by burning off as little as 1,000 kilocalories more per week (see inset) will reduce your likelihood of dying by 20%.