13th March 2017.Is there a clearer expression of the human body's incredible abilities than watching young athletes in their prime compete for the top spots in their respective sports? When our bodies are young, many of us turn to sports to exercise, have fun, and connect with our peers. Why should sport remain the domain of the young solely, though? As we get older, many of the rigorous sporting tasks we tackled with ease in our youth have become more difficult. Without the competitive aspect and the drive to improve and be better, many people drift away from sports as they age. That might even lead to an abandonment of regular exercise altogether. It doesn't have to be that way, though, and indeed it shouldn't ? after all, exercise is important throughout our lifetimes. While age can slow us down, it shouldn't knock us out of the game entirely. That idea is the driving force between a game that's growing in popularity in many places: walking football. At its most basic, it's a version of the game of football we all know and love but tweaked to slow down the pace of play. How exactly does it work, and where is it finding popularity? Let's look at the answers to these questions, plus the health benefits participants of walking football can enjoy.

How walking football works

The good news when it comes to learning walking football is that it does not differ significantly from its parent sport. Typically played in games with five players to a side, walking football can accommodate up to seven a side in normal play. The name of the game has already given away the key difference that sets it apart, though: throughout the entire match, the rules allow for absolutely no player to run. Not the goaltender, not a striker, not a defender ? no running, period! The game's rules state that one foot must always be on the ground. You play the entire game at a walk, which while sometimes brisk, does not carry with it the same bodily stresses as running. If a player breaks into a jog or run, the opposing teams receives a free kick. Naturally, violent manoeuvres like the slide tackle also result in a foul and the awarding of a penalty kick. Some walking football leagues introduce additional rules beyond these. For example, in some clubs, you will find a height restriction in place. These rules stipulate that players cannot kick the ball above a certain height ? above the knees, for example, or over one's head. Other penalties can include sending players to a "sin bin" for time out of the game. Overall, the fouls in the game lay boundaries for the extremes of a player's activity level, helping to keep the game fun and friendly without sacrificing the spirit of competition that adds to the degree of fun.

Who should try playing walking football?

Okay, with the rules out of the way, who is actually playing this low impact sport? By and large, the largest demographic flocking to this game consists of older men, especially those entering their 50s and 60s. At this stage in life, the body begins to slow down, and its more limited capabilities become apparent. Joint-related problems such as arthritis can also start to take hold and slow down individuals. These men now find that instead of being stuck at home, though, they have a good reason to head down to the football pitch to meet with a local club. Because there is no running involved, walking football spares the body from most of the harshest impacts of exercise. There is no sudden shock for the body's systems to absorb every footfall as there can be when running. As a result, many of these older men find the sport enables them to limber up and remain active without a high risk of a fitness injury. It's not just for guys, though; anyone who wants to enjoy a simple, fun, and healthy exercise could participate in the game. If one obeys the rules and sticks to the spirit of the game, anyone is welcome. It could even function as an excellent way for those who haven't exercised in a while to begin again.

The physical health benefits of the game

The "low impact" nature of the game should be apparent already, but what are the other health benefits to playing walking football? As with all forms of exercise, there are plenty of ways your body can take advantage of the increase in your activity level. However, let's focus specifically on the benefits older individuals will derive from the sport, as they're the predominant players of the game. First, participating in a walking football game can help one's balance improve measurably. As we age, we often develop issues with our balance which can lead to injuries. Walking regularly, and keeping your body in line with the ball, will help improve this important sense. The more you play, the better in tune with your body you should become. Boosting the stability of your core this way is a good foundation for other health gains. Next, it's a good activity for keeping your muscles from losing mass. In combination with other moderate forms of exercise, walking football could even help you improve some of your muscles. While it's not a path to serious cardio fitness, it can provide individuals with better stamina and less daily fatigue. Pushing your body through exercise helps it toughen up against the daily wear and tear we experience. As an added benefit, it can also be a part of a program for losing weight. Maintaining a healthy, balanced weight is even more important as we age; with the right diet and exercise including walking football matches, you can burn more calories than you consume, and after all, that's the only truly proven recipe for weight loss.

How walking football develops positive mental health gains

While all these physical advantages are fantastic, the reality is that participating in this sport offers players more than just a simple way to exercise and have fun. It offers the chance to provide stimulating and beneficial mental health effects as well, making it an excellent activity all around for older individuals. What kind of effects are we discussing? Participating in the sport can have a significant impact for those suffering from depression. It's not uncommon for our social circles to shrink as we get older, which can inspire feelings of loneliness and sadness. Participating in a game of football with other people in your age group can help you form new connections with others. This social interaction is necessary for all humans to thrive, no matter our age. After joining a club or playing in a few matches, it can become a habit. Habits like these help prevent individuals from isolating themselves and slipping deeper into depression. The game can also help inspire feelings of renewed confidence. Losing portions of one's independence due to age is often frustrating. By walking out onto the pitch and engaging in some friendly games and competing with one another, it's easy to recapture some self-confidence. The esteem boost that accompanies playing in such a social game is a reward all on its own. Playing along helps keep the mind sharp as well. Though the walking pace of the game keeps things slow, that doesn't mean the element of strategy disappear altogether. Following the ball takes a good measure of concentration as well. Taken together, the physical and mental benefits of walking football make it clear why this sport continues to grow.

Prepare for a lifetime of sporting fun

At first, it might seem like removing running from football would take the fun out of it, yet the reality is much different. With many thousands of individuals enjoying this sport and its popularity gaining, it's worth close attention. Are you less active than you once were and wishing for a change? Joining a local walking football club could be just what your body and mind need. The invigorating, rejuvenating feeling of walking the pitch and competing with your peers once more is a beautiful thing. What position would you like to play most? Contact a club and find out if you can join a game soon!