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Big, retired athletes need to stay active

November 11, 2008 | 11:11 am

Fridge1Ever wonder what happens to a 330-pound offensive lineman after he retires? A study presented today on the post-retirement health of professional football players shows some risks and benefits of being big and strong.

The study, released at the annual meeting of the American Heart Assn., showed that, compared with other men, National Football League players had significantly lower rates of diabetes, hypertension, sedentary lifestyles and metabolic syndrome. They did, however, have higher rates of elevated cholesterol and impaired fasting glucose, a condition that can lead to diabetes.

"Being a professional athlete doesn't protect you from developing heart disease later in life," said the study's lead author, Alice Y. Chang of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School. "Secondly, remaining physically active may help protect against many of the health risks of large body size in former competitive football players."

Chang's study included 201 former NFL players who were compared with a control group of men. The average age of the retired players was 55.2. The researchers found no difference in the levels of atherosclerosis in the two groups of men. The retired players were more active as a group, however. About 35% of the retired players were sedentary compared with about 49% of the control group men. The fact that so many of the retired players were active may influence their lower rate of disease and compensate for their higher cholesterol levels, Chang said. But the study shows that body size alone doesn't dictate the risk of disease.

"Body mass index is only a crude measure of fatness. For the athletic community it may be biased against very dense, muscular people who may have a high BMI but not as much fat. The BMI might not tell the whole story."

-- Shari Roan

Photo: Former Chicago Bears player William "the Refrigerator" Perry was famous for his size and ability to score touchdowns, as shown here in 1986. His Super Bowl XX ring is a size 23, large enough to pass a half-dollar through. Credit: Amy Sancetta/AP