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Retired NFL Players Don't Face Greater Heart Risk

Keeping physically active may help to tackle health threats, study says

TUESDAY, Nov. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Despite their large body size, former professional football players aren't at increased risk for cardiovascular disease, according to a study that looked at 201 retired NFL players.

The players, average age 55.2, were compared to a control group of men from the population-based Dallas Heart Study and the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study. The study found that:

  • about 35 percent of NFL players and 49 percent of the controls were sedentary.
  • 4.6 percent of former players and 17 percent of controls had diabetes.
  • 38 percent of former players and 60 percent of controls had hypertension, or high blood pressure.
  • 34 percent of former players and 46 percent of controls had metabolic syndrome.
  • 46 percent of former players and 48 percent of controls had significant coronary artery calcium (CAC) scores, a measure of atherosclerosis -- the build-up of fatty plaques that narrow coronary arteries.
  • former players had a greater body- mass index (BMI, a ratio of weight to height) and waist size than physically active controls, but there were no differences in other cardiovascular risk factors or CAC scores.

Age and high cholesterol levels, not body size, were the most significant predictors of "sub-clinical coronary atherosclerosis" among the former players, the researchers said. They added that maintaining physical activity may have helped many former players prevent the development of diabetes or atherosclerosis, even though they had bigger bodies.

The findings, to be presented Tuesday at the American Heart Association's (AHA) scientific sessions in New Orleans, offer one cautionary and one hopeful message.

"First, being a professional athlete doesn't protect you from developing heart disease later in life," lead author Dr. Alice Y., Chang, an assistant professor of internal medicine in the division of endocrinology and metabolism at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, said in an AHA news release. "Secondly, remaining physically active may help protect against many of the health risks of large body size in former competitive football players."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about heart disease.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, Nov. 11, 2008

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