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Being fit could protect football players' health -- but not 100%

May 27, 2009 |  4:31 pm

Professional football players are large and getting larger -- for the last 30 years, players have shown a substantial increase in body mass index, leading some health experts to wonder if they've become more at risk for cardiovascular disease.

J9bhopnc But it seems their fitness levels may provide protection from that bulk on some levels. A new study in the May 27 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Assn. looked at cardiovascular disease risk factors among current NFL players and healthy young men to see how they compared, and found that the groups are similar in many ways.

Researchers examined the health of 504 active NFL players on 12 teams in 2007, looking at their health histories; height and weight; neck, waist and hip circumferences; body composition; fasting glucose; cholesterol and triglycerides; blood pressure; pulse; and electrocardiograms.

That information was compared with data from the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study. A sample of 1,959 men matched in age and race to the football players was analyzed.

Overall, the NFL players were heavier and taller than the CARDIA group, but despite being heftier they had lower average fasting glucose and showed no major differences in total cholesterol, HDL or LDL cholesterol, or triglycerides. There were also fewer smokers among the athletes. However, high blood pressure was more prevalent among the football players.

Researchers speculate that the players' fitness level could be responsible for tamping down some of those cardiovascular risks, but having high blood pressure doesn't take them completely off the hook. Areas they propose looking into to solve that mystery include the effect of strength training, long-term use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, sleep disordered breathing, and salt intake.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times