Athletes across the world are considered to be fit and healthy, even at the senior age, when ordinary people struggle for the basic routine activities. However, the common belief is taking a wrong turn for former athletes of the US National Football League (NFL).
Researchers have found that the former athletes, who bulked up before and during their professional careers, possess an increased risk of heart disease and other health problems, as compared to other players. The authors write that these results have added concerns over the short and long-term health risks of the game.
The study results were published in the American Journal of Medicine and were based on sporadic surveys of over 3,500 former NFL players. These players participated in the Harvard Football Players Health Study, supporting research on the health of current, former and future NFL players.
Between the high school football days and the end of their professional careers, the retired players reported of gaining an average of 40 pounds.
The study found that for every 10 pounds gained between high school and college playing days, or from college to the height of a professional career, the risk of heart disease in a player rose by nearly 14 per cent. Besides, along with every 10 pounds gained in the early years, came a 15-25 per cent risk of sleep apnea, as well as an additional risk of chronic pain and neurocognitive impairment.
When responded to the survey, the former NFL players were, on average, 53 years old. They were asked about their health history and current overall health. Besides, they were questioned about their weight at specific points in their lives– the end of high school football participation, end collegiate football participation, during their professional career, as well as during retirement.
In the survey 20 per cent of the ex-players reported having chronic pain, 25 per cent being diagnosed with cardiometabolic diseases like high cholesterol or diabetes, 22 per cent reported sleep apnea, 17 per cent of having neurocognitive impairment, and 9 per cent reported cardiovascular disease such as atherosclerosis, or history of heart attack or stroke.
In a phone interview, lead author Timothy W. Churchill of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said, “We think this data suggests that football players, their physicians and their families should have an active discussion about the role weight gain plays in their health and football careers.”
He also said, “An action item for former players who had a great rapidity in weight gain is they might want to go back and have a general health check-up and consider overall health maintenance.”
Unhealthy behaviours of early life can have a major impact on the health of aspiring athletes. Paulette Goddard professor of nutrition food studies and public health, Marion Nestle also said, “High weight gain early has longer to exert metabolic problems.”