Jonathan Oliver, Ph.D
Due to their intense training and physical abilities, athletes are assumed by many people to be healthy individuals. However, this may not always be the case. Studies have recently shown that football athletes, particularly linemen, are at an increased risk for the development of cardiovascular disease. This is evidenced by the increased morbidity rate of retired professional football players.
In fact, sport scientists have been researching younger football players to identify the length of time associated with the development of cardiovascular disease. Research showed a significant number of collegiate linemen had an increased risk of metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a condition defined as having 3 of 5 risk factors regarded as precursors of cardiovascular disease, stroke and type II diabetes. These include a larger than normal waist size, low HDL (“good cholesterol”), high triglycerides, high blood pressure, and high fasting blood glucose.
Looking at football linemen, one might assume their only risk would be an above average waist size. However, many linemen at all levels of play from high school to professional are asked to eat a significant amount of calories in order to increase their size. While this definitely has benefits in relation to on-field play, it may also result in clinical markers associated with metabolic syndrome; thereby increasing their risk for other diseases. A decrease in body fat lowers the risks. But these players need the extra calories, especially at high levels of play. As for the weight loss benefits of exercise, these athletes already tend to be very active for most of the year. In another approach, many universities have recruited the help of sports nutritionists. Sports nutritionists are aware of the health complications of a high calorie diet and can provide diets that are consistent with the National Cholesterol Education Program, which provides evidence-based recommendations on achieving optimal cholesterol levels.
But what about when a lineman is no longer active? After graduating from college or retiring from professional play, these athletes go from a high activity level to significantly lower levels but often continue to eat as they had during their playing years. Obviously, with a lower level of activity, many of the markers consistent with the development of metabolic disorders and cardiovascular disease increase. These players should be provided with an exit strategy to self-monitor their diets and exercise to avoid development of disease. After all, a healthy long life should be a welcome reward for any football player after his glory years.
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