Collegiate football can be demanding on the body, but typically, research has focused on the impact of concussions to football players.
Now, a recent study looks at how changes in weight and blood pressure for college football players may impact their heart health over time.
The study looked at 126 U.S. college football athletes over a three-year period.
Researchers found when players gained weight and had an increase in their blood pressure, there were physical changes to their hearts – both in the artery structure, as well as the main pumping chamber.
“There was about a ten to ten-and-a-half pound weight gain over a three year consecutive period of play, and that weight gain was significantly associated with arterial stiffening,” said Tamannah Singh, M.D., of Cleveland Clinic who did not take part in the study. “Both weight gain, as well as an increase in blood pressure were also associated with some changes in the actual structure of the main pumping chamber of the heart – the left ventricle.”
Dr. Singh said the types of heart changes seen in this study are typically seen in older individuals – but what was surprising, was that researchers saw these effects in young athletes.
“Basically, what that means is that just like when older individuals have high blood pressure, the walls of these vessels in our bodies get stiffer and harder, and that can increase risk for heart attacks, heart disease, strokes, down the line,” she said.
Dr. Singh said the findings indicate that doctors and coaches need to pay attention to how their athletes are taking care of their bodies.
She believes an athlete’s diet should reflect healthy choices that will not only fuel performance, but also their overall health and well-being.
“As trainers, as providers, we need to be cognizant of the type, and the quality, of the food they’re putting in their bodies,” said Dr. Singh. “Monitoring their weight-gain, knowing that weight-gain is negatively associated with cardiovascular risk, and staying on top of that, because having high blood pressure at such a young age means that high blood pressure will carry through beyond competitive sport participation.”