New research from Edinburgh University praises health benefits of playing rugby

People can improve their health and wellbeing by playing rugby, according to a new study.

New Edinburgh signing Andries Ferreira in Super Rugby action for the Bulls against the Jaguares earlier this year.
New Edinburgh signing Andries Ferreira in Super Rugby action for the Bulls against the Jaguares earlier this year.

Research by Edinburgh University has found the sport comes with several health benefits including reducing risk of some cancers and increasing muscle function and bone health.

Analysis of the sport has until now focused most prominently on injuries and this new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine and funded by the Rugby Football Union in collaboration with the Scottish Rugby Union, seeks to provide a more balanced perspective on the benefits and risks.

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Researchers in the Capital found playing the sport reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, some cancers, stroke, heart disease and depression.

Improved muscle function, bone health and balance are other potential health gains listed in the study.

The positive impact rugby union - especially in wheelchair rugby and amateur settings - has on mental health and wellbeing was also highlighted.

Players of touch, tag and wheelchair rugby appear to benefit most with evidence of positive health outcomes among those playing contact forms of rugby union such as 15-a-side and sevens is less clear.

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The team reviewed nearly 200 rugby-related studies from six continents to build a comprehensive picture of the sport's relationship with health and to identify gaps in research.

They say the study is long overdue as despite global participation in the sport there has been no overarching review of the relationship between rugby and health and wellbeing.

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The study says further research is needed on the physical impact of contact rugby, given the high incidence of injury and concussion compared with other sports, especially at professional level.

Lead author of the report Dr Steffan Griffin said: "There is strong evidence to suggest that all forms of rugby union provide moderate to vigorous physical activity that can be linked to a wide range of health and wellbeing benefits."

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Researchers say they hope the review can make players, and those thinking of taking up the game, more aware of potential health gains as well as the hazards.

It will also enable parents and teachers to make informed decisions about schools rugby and help policymakers better understand how they might promote rugby union as a health enhancing activity, they say.

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Lothian MSP, Miles Briggs, said that this research is ‘worthwhile’ and playing the sport will provide a great boost to people mental and physical health when restrictions are eased.

He said: “This is a very worthwhile piece of research by Edinburgh University that builds on previous research into the significant health benefits of team sports.

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“Wheelchair and touch rugby can be fun ways of keeping fit and meeting new friends, as well as improving mental and physical health.

“The charity School of Hard Knocks utilises the benefits that rugby can bring to individuals to build people’s confidence whilst getting them back into employment.

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“This year has been very challenging for lots of people and being able to team sports again will be a great boost to people's mental and physical health when restrictions are eased.”

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