Playing rugby union can improve health and wellbeing, study suggests

Scotland rugby union training session Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

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

Research by the University of Edinburgh has found the sport comes with several health benefits despite the risks associated with it.

These include reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, some cancers, stroke, heart disease and depression, a paper published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests.

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

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh have found enhanced cardiovascular, respiratory and metabolic function are further possible health dividends.

Touch rugby has been found to be particularly beneficial Credit: Chris Radburn/PA

Players of touch, tag and wheelchair rugby appear to benefit most, the study states.

Evidence of positive health outcomes among those playing contact forms of rugby union such as 15-a-side and sevens is less clear.

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.

Researchers also highlighted the positive impact rugby union – especially in wheelchair rugby and amateur settings – has on mental health and wellbeing.

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.

Analysis of the sport has until now focused on injuries, according to the researchers.

The study, 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.

With eight million players in 120 countries, rugby union plays a vital role in helping the global population meet the World Health Organisation’s physical activity goals, the study states.

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.

Lead author of the report, Dr Steffan Griffin, of the physical activity for the Health Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh, 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.”