Football is a dangerous game. Athletes can get bruised, break bones, endure concussions or worse, and that's just within the 11 minutes of actual gameplay the average football game has.
Each player goes out on the field with a job to do, but not every position carries the same risks, found a study presented at the American Heart Association's (AHA) Scientific Sessions 2015.
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Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital examined the game's impact on the heart of 87 college athletes from pre-season to post-season. Over the course of that single season of collegiate play, the scientists noted several changes among the athletes, including an increase in blood pressure and thickening of the heart muscle wall.
College linemen in particular were more likely to have these conditions than other positions. At the beginning of the season, none of the players had high blood pressure. By the end of it, nine linemen out of 30 had it compared with just four non-lineman out of 57.
Every time a player gets hit on the field, that impact provokes a stress response in their systems, which in the short term increases heart and breathing rates as well as blood pressure. Previous studies have shown that stress can increase cardiovascular risk.
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Directly connecting football with the cardiovascular changes seen in the players can be difficult, however. As the AHA notes in a 2013 article, blood pressure variations could be attributed to everything from fatigue to recent alcohol consumption to pain from musculoskeletal injuries to use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication and more.
The latest research isn't the first to find that football players were more likely to have cardiovascular disease risk factors after a single season. Emory University School of Medicine researchers earlier this year discovered that determined that collegiate football players had stiffer arteries than other students.
Athletes who play in college and later the NFL may have fulfilled the ambition of their careers, but at risk to their health, found a 2008 Mayo Clinic study of 233 retired players.
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Eighty-two percent of them had abnormal narrowing and blockages in their arteries, which increase the risk of heart disease an stroke, compared with the general population. All of the players included in the Mayo study were under age 50.
Taken together, the studies suggest that the impact on player health continues long after the final whistle is blown.