Retired professional football players, more specifically linesmen, are at risk of experiencing an earlier onset of major chronic diseases that are commonly associated with old people, according to a recent study. 

The study which was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that age-related diseases such as arthritis, hypertension, diabetes, and dementia were experienced much earlier among retired professional athletes when compared to the general population. The healthspans of these retired players were also found to be cut short by over a decade.

To date, the long-term effect that comes with playing football has been rather inconsistent. In the same way, data comparing the level of chronic disease among retired football players with those with no prior exposure to football have remained lacking. The researchers were curious to determine whether professional football players are being robbed of a few years of their lives.

Importantly, this new finding adds to a mixed bag of research suggesting engaging or partaking in professional football poses a new risk factor for early aging.

Study Methodology

To arrive at this conclusion, the team of researchers at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School looked at data from 2,864 black and white former elite male players between the ages of 25 to 59 years. They questioned the football players on their professional playing career length. The position of these players was grouped into linemen and non-linemen. They were then to respond to whether a healthcare provider ever informed them that they’ve had dementia/Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, hypertension or high blood pressure, and diabetes. 

Furthermore, the researchers used the data from these studies to study the duration of the lifespan of the players without having developed any of the above chronic diseases. 

The researchers used the data obtained to compare two other study cohorts containing information on tens of thousands of individuals living in the United States who were between the ages of 25 to 59.

Results

At the end of the study, the researchers found that arthritis and dementia/Alzheimer’s disease,  hypertension, and diabetes had a direct link with age and were more prevalent among retired football athletes compared to the general population. Following this further, it turned out that the entire healthspan of the players declined as they grew older; resembling that of an American man a decade older.

Upon grouping the participants into linemen and non-linemen, the study authors found that those who reported playing the lineman position had a reduced healthspan across all ages.

“Our findings suggest that football prematurely weathers them and puts them on an alternate aging trajectory, increasing the prevalence of a variety of diseases of old age,” says Rachel Grashow, lead study author and director of epidemiological research initiatives for the Football Players Health Study.

“We need to look not just at the length of life but the quality of life. Professional football players might live as long as men in the general population, but those years could be filled with disability and infirmity.”

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