According to a new study, certain age-related diseases can occur at a younger age in professional American football players and lead to reduced health status in athletes for up to a decade.
The research, published last week in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found that some gamers aged nearly a decade faster than the general population and suffered from conditions typically associated with old age such as arthritis and high blood pressure as early as their twenties.
Scientists, including those at Harvard Medical School in the United States, are calling for new studies to understand the biological mechanisms behind this observed premature aging phenomenon.
“The findings should serve as a wake-up call to clinicians caring for these individuals to pay special attention even to their relatively younger former athlete patients,” said the study’s lead author, Rachel Grashow.
“Such heightened vigilance can lead to earlier diagnoses and faster intervention to prevent or dramatically slow the rate of age-related disease,” Dr. Grashow said.
Researchers are calling for identifying young and middle-aged NFL players who may have these diseases.
In the study, data from a survey of nearly 3,000 former National Football League (NFL) players between the ages of 25 and 59 – the largest study cohort of former professional football players in that day – have been assessed.
The scientists then determined whether a healthcare provider had ever told these athletes that they had conditions such as dementia/Alzheimer’s disease, arthritis, hypertension or diabetes.
They also used survey data to measure how healthy participants were or how long these athletes could live without developing any of these diseases, and then compared the survey results with similar questions asked of the general public. , taking into account factors such as body mass index and race.
While all four conditions increased with age in both former soccer players and the general public, the prevalence of these conditions differed significantly between the two groups.
Former soccer players were more likely to report in each decade that they had been diagnosed with dementia/Alzheimer’s disease and arthritis, the study notes.
It found that young players aged 25 to 29 reported a significantly higher number of diagnoses of hypertension and diabetes compared to the general population.
The lifespan of each former age group of NFL players in the study most closely resembled American men a decade older.
“Professional soccer players could live as long as men in the general population, but those years could be filled with disability and infirmity,” Dr Grashow said.
The researchers also found that esports linemen, who have more contact during games than non-linemen, had significantly shorter health durations.
This group of players tended to develop age-related diseases earlier than their other peers.
“These data suggest the emergence of a maladaptive early aging phenotype in former professional ASF players characterized by a premature burden of chronic disease and reduced health,” the researchers wrote in the study.