Players who suffered knee ligament injury during their football careers were at higher risk for knee osteoarthritis and knee replacement, the researchers found. In fact, two-thirds of the retired Jets went on to suffer from injury-linked knee trouble.
On the other hand, "the general health of these players was surprising," Nicholas said. "They had very little incidence of diabetes, their hypertension wasn't bad, and there were actually less deaths than you'd expect compared to an age-matched population."
Players with knee arthritis had physical health scores that were on par with the average 60-something American male, and those without knee trouble had scores that were 19 percent above the norm, the researchers found.
Even when players were overweight or obese, "we did not see diabetes," Nicholas noted. That may stem from the team members' continued commitment to fitness.
"I know most of these players," Nicholas noted. "I was a waterboy on that team in 1969. I knew them back then, and I know them now as a physician for many of them -- they maintain their fitness, and they are still in shape."
That includes brain fitness, too, he said. The study found that the ex-Jets were as or more mentally sharp than men of similar age, despite the neurological hazards that playing football can bring.
Precautions taken during the players' careers might have helped, Nicholas said. "My father was on the forefront of orthopedics and medicine back then, and they used very strict criteria for cerebral injury," he said. "Players wouldn't go back into the game; they wouldn't go back next week with concussions."
The researchers also found no evidence of any increased risk of depression among the Jets veterans, and 94 percent of the retirees said they had had either "very f
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