What Gives More Exercise: Basketball or Football?

Group of friends playing football in street

Football and basketball are not only popular spectator sports, but they're also recreational games with participants of many ages, from very young children to middle-aged adults. Casual players employ different varieties of each game, so the workout you receive depends in part on which version you're playing. But with their emphasis on running, each sport provides a good workout.

Aerobic Vs. Anaerobic Sports

A standard basketball game is an aerobic activity because it involves fairly constant motion. Football is an anaerobic exercise because it includes short bursts of activity, followed by downtime between plays. In general, aerobic exercise is better for weight reduction because it burns fats as well as carbohydrates.


A full-court basketball game keeps you moving over a 94-foot surface. You'll have bursts of more strenuous activity, such as when you battle for a rebound, drive to the hoop or join a fast break. At other times you'll jog up and down the court. But even when you're not running, jumping or jogging, you'll rarely stand still when you're playing basketball. Meanwhile, casual players who enjoy half-court playground games will also be in fairly constant motion. And you probably won't sit down during a pickup game, as opposed to playing in an organized game that may feature substitutions and timeouts. Pickup games with fewer than 10 players on the court provide an even better workout, because you'll be in the thick of the action more often.


At the higher levels of organized tackle football, it's rare for players to participate on both offense and defense, although two-way play is fairly common at smaller high schools or for standout players at larger high schools. The two-platoon system means plenty of bench time, but the players can look forward to strenuous activity when they're on the field. Recreational touch or flag football can almost be considered an aerobic activity because players typically play offense and defense, and most positions require plenty of running.


Playing tackle football is likely to provide a superior strength workout, relative to basketball, depending on the position you play. Linemen, in particular, receive a high-resistance workout with the resistance provided by opposing linemen. At the recreational level, football becomes a running game that's fairly similar to a casual basketball game. Indeed, both MayoClinic.com and FitNHealth.com state that the two games will help you burn equal numbers of calories. MayoClinic.com, for example, notes that a 160-pound player typically burns 584 calories in one hour of basketball or either touch or flag football.