7 Health Benefits of Playing Rugby
Rugby has developed something of a reputation for injuries over the years. But while there will always be risks associated with contact sports, rugby actually offers a surprising range of health benefits.
What Makes Rugby So Beneficial?
While all forms of physical activity can positively impact health, rugby is noted for combining a hugely diverse range of physical activities. Firstly, rugby players cover a surprising distance in each match, at varying speeds. Some studies, in which rugby players were monitored with GPS transponders, suggest that they may travel 5km or more over the course of a match.
Secondly, activity levels can vary wildly during a match; ranging from standing still, to walking, jogging and even full-on sprints. This range of intensity levels also offers unique health benefits. Depending on your position, rugby can incorporate both aerobic activity like jogging with anaerobic exercise such as during a scrum. As the current government-recommended guidelines for exercise include both aerobic and resistance training on a weekly basis, rugby has the potential to address all these needs.
Lastly, rugby is a “whole body” sport that exercises all major muscle groups. While much of the game may be spent exercising the lower body, elements of the game such as throwing the ball also incorporate upper body and core strength elements. In brief, therefore, one of the key benefits of playing rugby is that it offers a complete exercise regime Here are some more specific benefits of playing rugby...
Routine aerobic activities like jogging have been shown to help support a healthy cardiovascular system. Rugby players run, throw, tackle and sprint, which encourages the heart and lungs to function more effectively. This not only makes future exercise less stressful but can also lead to long term benefits.
In evidence of this, one study of 100 university students put them through systematic physical training, with their pulse rate being monitored before, during and after exercise. The scientists found that those individuals who regularly played rugby experienced lower pulse rates than those not taking part in regular physical activity.
These results support the notion that rugby helps to support a healthy heart and maintain heart rates within reasonable limits.
Rugby is not a “steady state” sport like long-distance running, where intensity levels remain roughly equal throughout the exercise period. Instead, rugby is characterised by bouts of intense physical activity followed by brief “rest” periods. This is the very definition of a training philosophy known as “high intensity interval training” or HIIT for short.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine one of the key benefits of HIIT is “reduced abdominal and subcutaneous fat”. Of course, playing rugby alone isn't enough to lose weight, but when combined with a calorie-controlled diet the evidence suggests that it can definitely contribute to reductions in body fat.
According to Diabetes UK there are an estimated 4.5 million people in the UK suffering from diabetes. Of these, 90% are thought to have type 2 diabetes - the form that develops with age and may be impacted by lifestyle choices.
A key factor in the appearance of diabetes is the body's sensitivity to insulin. Fortunately, physical activity like rugby has been shown to directly impact how the body responds to insulin, thus reducing the likelihood of suffering from insulin-dependent diabetes with age.
Inflammation is implicated in a huge range of different health conditions, from atherosclerosis to arthritis. Finding ways to limit and control inflammation in the body therefore has the potential to keep us healthier for longer, and reduces the chances of suffering from inflammation-led conditions.
Most forms of exercise have the ability to help control inflammation in the body, but one particular study assessed the specific impacts of playing rugby on inflammation. Participants in the study engaged in 40 minutes of rugby per day for a week. Thereafter, blood tests were taken to measure symptoms of inflammation, and showed significant changes. The scientists concluded that rugby may help to “assist in the acute regulation of glucose disposal and inflammatory cytokines”.
Rugby training is focused around explosive power such as is found in sprinters meaning that rugby can be a great way to strip fat and develop lean muscle. Add the element of tackling and powering through in the scrum and you have a full body workout every time you train or play a game of rugby.
Long term stress can lead to a variety of health problems. Just a few of these include insomnia and stomach problems, and some research has even linked prolonged stress to cancer and diabetes. Team games such as rugby have been shown as a means of reducing stress.
Studies by psychologists have pointed to improvements in mood in direct response to physical sport, with all forms seemingly leading to stress relief. It is believed that rugby acts both as an outlet for your frustrations, as well as releasing “feel good” hormones known as endorphins.
Sport, in general, has been shown to have a positive effect on mental health, helping with depression and anxiety. The endorphins released can also create a positive “buzz” after exercise, while some studies have even found evidence that physical exercise has the ability to improve creative thought.
The benefits of rugby are many and varied, including potential improvements in mood, creativity, heart health and inflammation. Little wonder then that rugby is such a popular sport, despite the potential risk of injury. If you're looking for a new sport that offers a huge range of health benefits then rugby might be just what you're seeking.