Home » Articles » Details » Playing a single season of college football leads to high blood pressure and adverse cardiac effects

High blood pressure affects one third of all adults in the US and the majority of those aged 50 year old and older. Beginning at a blood pressure (BP) of 115/75, each 20 mm Hg increase in systolic BP (SBP) and 10 mm Hg increase in diastolic (DBP) doubles the risk of cardiovascular disease and death.  Previous studies have noted an increased risk of hypertension and thickening of heart muscle (left ventricular hypertrophy) among professional American football-style players. A recent study in the journal Circulation was conducted to determine to what degree this risk also occurred in the more than 1 million young men and adolescents who played collegiate or high school football.

Study authors enrolled six consecutive groups of collegiate football players who attended Harvard University from 2006 to 2011. Anthropometric data (physical measurements), resting BP, and cardiac structure (left ventricle size) were assessed before and after a single season of competitive college football in each successive class.

After a single competitive football season, SBP increased 9 mm Hg and diastolic BP increased 2 mm Hg. At the post-season assessment, 61 percent of football players had developed pre-hypertension or stage I hypertension. Among linemen, rates left ventricular hypertrophy rose from two percent before the season to 31 percent of players post-season.  Lineman also more frequently developed prehypertension/stage I hypertension compared to non-lineman by the end of a football season.

The study authors concluded that American collegiate football players were at risk for developing clinically relevant BP elevations with associated anatomic change to their hearts. They hypothesized that strength training placed individuals at risk for left ventricular hypertrophy and hypertension. Football participants need to be extra vigilant at managing all of the risk factors associated with high blood pressure by eating a diet rich in vegetables/fruits, lean meats, low in saturated fats, and low on sodium. This group of individuals should be followed closely for development of hypertension later in life and complications related to hypertension (cardiovascular disease).

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