Though it is our most popular, commonly viewed sport, football has been taking a beating in the health care arena lately. Besides the expanding case studies on concussions and the impact this high-intensity sport has on the brain, recent research indicates that play on the gridiron also negatively affects the heart.
High-intensity exercise has been associated with changes to the heart’s form, function and structure, but a study presented recently at the American College of Cardiology’s annual conference found that college football players may develop high blood pressure over the course of their first season. The players also show signs of having stiffer blood vessels than leaner peers who don’t play the sport.
This is cause for concern. Stiffening of the blood vessel walls is linked to an increased risk of high blood pressure. With age, arteries usually lose elasticity. One symptom of increasing, age-related arterial stiffness is a progressive increase in systolic blood pressure.
Stiff Arteries: Football Players’ Occupational Hazard?
The finding of higher arterial stiffness in football players suggests that besides the possible cardiac changes linked to this sport, alteration in the arteries or vessels is an added risk factor for cardiovascular disease. That means the strenuous exercise typical of football, coupled with aging, could be damaging.
Reducing high blood pressure is a common benefit of regular exercise, so it may seem counter-intuitive that football could increase the risk of future hypertension. There could be any number of reasons for such findings: increased weight, muscle mass or possibly strenuous training.
Regardless of the reasons, the findings suggest that heightened heart disease risks can start early in a football player’s career. Further study will determine the significance. In the meantime, young players should eat a balanced diet and undergo routine blood pressure checks.