“Athlete’s heart” is a fascinating concept. Basically, it describes the changes to the heart that result from engaging in regular vigorous physical activities. Marathon runners and professional athletes are the ones who find their blood pressure and heart shape, size, function, and structure changing as a result of their athletic activity.
According to a new study out of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, the ones most likely to be affected by “athlete’s heart” are college-level football linemen.
Football is among the most physically demanding sports on the planet. College and professional-level football players’ bodies undergo a lot of changes as a result of the high-impact, high-intensity sport. For the above-mentioned study, researchers examined 190 college-level football players between 2008 and 2014. Eventually, the study chose only to use 87 players: 57 non-linemen and 30 linemen.
Before the football season began, only 57% of linemen met the criteria for high blood pressure (pre-hypertension). By the end of the season, that number rose to a whopping 90%. On the flip side, only 51% of non-linemen had high blood pressure at the onset of the season. That number actually dropped by 49% by the end of the season.
The changes weren’t contained to just a rise in blood pressure. The linemen also noticed a “mild but significant” decrease in their heart’s ability to contract, and the walls of their hearts grew thicker. Basically, by the end of the season, their hearts resembled that of an older adult with hypertensive heart disease or hypertension.
It’s a pretty scary thing to consider. College-level athletes should be in the prime of their lives and in peak physical condition, yet the football season strains and ages their hearts.
Football linemen are particularly at risk of cardiovascular problems as a result of the high-intensity, high-impact sport. Add this to their list of potential injuries, and sport doctors have a very serious concern to worry about.
This research could raise questions about the long-term implications of professional football—and other endurance sports—and its safety. At the very least, it should encourage healthcare professionals, trainers, and team doctors to take a proactive stance to combat cardiovascular problems among their players. With more research and preventive measures, the health of all team sport athletes could be improved significantly.
1. Baggish, Aaron L. MD et al. “Blood Pressure and LV Remodeling Among American-Style Football Players“, JACC: Cardiovascular Imaging, doi: 10.1016/j.jcmg.2016.07.013, published online 5 December 2016.
2. Zoghbi, William MD., “Cardiac Remodeling in American-Style Football Players:Field Position Matters,” JACC: Cardiovascular Imaging, doi: 10.1016/j.jcmg.2016.09.007, published online 5 December 2016.