These boots were made for walkin’


Garry Lee, 70, kicking a ball around during walking football practice. Photo: Athina Hilman.

Walking football is gaining popularity among senior citizens in Australia and helping them stay in shape, as the sport is proven to increase metabolic rate and ward off cardiovascular diseases.

While the thought of football may conjure images of Aussie Rules, walking football is a modified game of soccer where players must have one foot on the ground at all times while walking towards the ball.

The rules for walking football differ from traditional soccer as the ball must remain below head level, with no side tackles allowed, making it easier for senior citizens with knee or hip injuries to play safely.

Edith Cowan University exercise medicine professor Robert Newton, who co-wrote a study on the health benefits of walking football for the International Journal of Applied Exercise Physiology, said the game can help aging players improve their fitness levels.

“Walking football provides very good mobility because a big issue with people getting older is their loss of muscle mass and they become frail,” he said.

“What we found with walking football is that it’s a reasonably intensive game and it gives a nice boost to a player’s metabolism which also helps with other added health benefits such as preventing cardiovascular disease and reducing [the chance of] type two diabetes.”

Football West, the governing body for soccer in WA, has conducted walking football “walkshops” since 2018 across WA from Perth to regional areas like Geraldton with more than 700 participants attending.

According to Football West, players who play walking football for 12 weeks on average lose up to three kilos of body fat, experienced a 6 per cent drop in blood pressure and see a 10 per cent increase in general fitness.

Football West program community lead Melissa Gmeiner said while the game has positive social, as well as physical health, benefits: “Playing walking football allows players to meet, to be part of a group, and to rekindle a sense of camaraderie between teammates.”

Two men and a trophy
Caption L-R: Tony Bellis, [Barnsley FC] and Pete Southern, [Bolton Wanderers] at Curtin University during walking football session.
Photo: Tony Bellis.
That same sense of camaraderie is what made Tony Bellis start a not-for-profit in Perth to promote the growth of walking football as a sport in WA.

The Association of Walking Football Australia Inc. was founded by Mr Bellis in December 2020 after he was introduced to the sport in late 2019 through an advertisement by Football West.

Ironically, he said the association started gaining traction in WA during COVID-19 lockdowns in March 2020 where the players were determined to work together to make walking football popular.

The popularity of the game has led Mr Bellis to host the inaugural Walking Football WA State Festival at Fox Football Fives in Floreat on October 24 and 25 this year.

The festival, free for spectators, saw teams from all over WA play four to five games each session with the men’s and women’s mixed competition divided across the weekend.

Walking football player Garry Lee, a participant in the men’s competition, said walking football had not only kept him physically fit, but mentally alert.

He said: “It’s great being part of a team. The rapid passing movement of the ball between players resulting in a goal – I am just as happy to provide an assist as to actually scoring.”

Mr Bellis said he hoped the festival could help recruit more sponsors for the association so it could continue to organise more regional outreach programs and further the number of walking football players in WA.