BOSTON— Football has come under the microscope in recent years when it comes to how dangerous the sport is, not least because of the potential for head injuries. The focus on CTE and how the condition has destroyed the lives of former gamers is leading more parents to keep their kids off the grill, and even pushing some gamers themselves to quit altogether. Now, new research from Harvard reports that former professional players, especially linemen, are more likely to develop diseases typically developed by those who are older, even if they are still young.
The team of investigators from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School based their work on a survey of nearly 3,000 former NFL players. The survey is part of the ongoing Harvard University Football Player Health Study, which is a research program that includes several different studies that follow the health of players throughout their lives.
Previous studies have reported the opposite of the results of this work, suggesting that former professional soccer players not only live as long, but even longer than men of a similar demographic. Despite this, athletes have told their providers that they often feel physically older than they actually are. Additionally, sports physicians have treated players with dementia, arthritis, hypertension and diabetes, which are usually conditions that occur with age.
Given the conflicting results, the research team interviewed 2,864 black and white former professional soccer players between the ages of 25 and 59 to determine if they had ever been told by a healthcare provider that they had the conditions related to age listed above. They also used the data to measure how long the athletes lived without developing any of the conditions.
The team compared their results to the general population using data from thousands of men between the ages of 25 and 59 who are not soccer players.
Although they found that the incidence of all conditions increased with age in gamers and the general population, they noticed that the prevalence of the disease was different between the groups. Former players were more likely to report a diagnosis of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in each decade, while only the youngest aged 25 to 29 were more often diagnosed with hypertension and diabetes.
“Football ages players prematurely and puts them on an alternative aging trajectory”
“Our analysis raises important biological and physiological questions about the underlying causes, but, equally important, the results should serve as a wake-up call for clinicians caring for these individuals to pay close attention even to their relatively younger former athlete patients,” senior study investigator Rachel Grashow, director of epidemiological research initiatives for the Football Players’ Health Study, said in a statement. “Such heightened vigilance can lead to earlier diagnoses and faster intervention to prevent or dramatically slow the rate of age-related disease.”
The team then looked for potentially gambling-related aspects that could play an important role in the development of these diseases. To do this, they divided the group of football players into linemen and non-linemen.
“We wanted to know: are professional footballers deprived of their middle age? Our findings suggest that football ages them prematurely and places them on an alternate aging trajectory, increasing the prevalence of various diseases of old age,” Grashow said. “We need to look not just at lifespan, but at quality of life. Professional football players could live as long as men in the general population, but those years could be filled with disability and infirmity. After analyzing the results, they found that linemen, who generally have more contact with other players, had a much shorter lifespan across all decades, developing conditions related to blood pressure sooner. ‘age.
Grashow and his team agree that more studies are needed in the future and that theirs will focus on the biological mechanisms involved in early aging in football players.
The results are published in the journal British Journal of Sports Medicine.
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