Walking Football - improving physical and mental health

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Here’s one answer which can be completely free and on your doorstep!

When we were kids we didn’t think about being fit – we just were! For most boys this meant we played football in the street, the school playground, we played throughout the holidays, the long hot summers, from dawn to dusk (or later!) or until the guy with the ball or tin-can had to go home! 

As we grew older some continued playing in youth and adult teams but most drifted away, apart from the odd kick-about on the beach or with the grandkids maybe, they never played again and maybe sat on a couch? Some may play the occasional games of squash, or take up the relatively expensive hobby of golf but now there is another answer. 

The cheapest, most ejoyable way to get ‘mentally fit’ is to play team-sports and most men would choose football. However, a few small problems exist, we have no kit, no boots but most of all we can’t run anymore and importantly for team sports - nor do we have anyone left to play with! Some, may be very keen to play, but suffered an illness, a serious medical condition, fractures, joint replacements, so it’s a non-starter for them surely? No, our club includes four cancer survivors, a heart quad-by-pass, various fractures and joint replacements, a diabetic, and a guy with cerebral palsy. Our oldest players are both 70. We’ve guys in stressful jobs and some will admit to bouts of depression and mental health problems. The FA is ‘tackling the stigma’ – and we are starting to admit that football is helping us feel happy as we look forward to the next games and meeting 20 like-minded people for the ‘adrenaline high’ which lasts for days afterwards. 

We have a strict ethos to enjoy the game in a safe environment. Guys play in their mid-30s, 40s, our club doesn’t restrict players to the minimum over 50s tag. 

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I found about this sport just over a year ago and now I play twice a week for £3. I hadn’t played for 10 years (since I was 50) when I suddenly stopped, following a severe head on car crash, leaving me with fractures and mental health problems. I couldn’t play football, I felt depressed, it was my weekly ritual, and kept me physically and mentally fit as a balance to my stressful office-bound job - until a friend said ‘Phil, try this sport, it’s been invented especially for you!’ He was right.

I went to a few local clubs then decided to form my own with 5 mates up the park, now we seem to have the biggest club in the county! We get 20 players each Monday and 8 on Fridays. Many work shifts or have other commitments, so we get a different set of guys most weeks but with a hard-core of 10 we’ve not missed a weekly session since last summer and we play outdoors, the weather has been kind!

It’s tougher than it sounds, you choose how much effort you put into it, but it gets you ‘blowing’ and increases your heart rate. Now, that’s the physical side sorted but we all know that when we exercise we release endorphins and we automatically feel better. 

Football has been proven to one of the purest forms of improving mental welfare, why? Because when you’re playing you’re totally involved in the game. Either you’re on the ball, or looking for a pass or watching the opponents attack. Now, if you did exactly the same level of exercise in the gym, on an exercise bike, you have none of that - you’re always thinking how much longer before we stop? Sure, music or a TV monitor can help but you’re indoors and probably doing all this solo? Where’s the fun element and the enjoyment? Great if you enjoy it and it’s much better than the couch.

Don’t just take my word for it, speak to any of the players in the 1000 clubs across the country! ■ Phil Andrews