CHICAGO -- Supersized pro football players are prone to high blood pressure but fare better on some other health measures than more average-sized men, new NFL-sponsored research shows.
The results suggest that intense physical conditioning can help reduce, but not wipe out, the ill effects that excess weight has on heart disease-related risks. Compared with other men their age, the NFL players were more than twice as likely to have high blood pressure -- 14 vs. 6 percent for non-players.
Among the biggest players -- linemen with a body mass index in the obese range -- about 90 percent had either high blood pressure or pre-hypertension, which is less dangerous but still risky. The biggest players also had worse levels of "good" cholesterol and blood fats called triglycerides, but fewer signs of pre-diabetes than non-players.
The NFL and study authors downplayed the negative findings from a pool of 504 players of all sizes. Except for high blood pressure, the authors said, players on average faced no greater heart disease risks than men their age in the general population.
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The study group included almost 200 of the largest players -- offensive and defensive linemen -- but also a sizable portion of leaner players including nearly 100 quarterbacks, kickers and wide receivers.
Heart disease experts not involved in the study said grouping lean quarterbacks with big beefy linemen doesn't make sense.
"It's mixing apples and oranges," said Cleveland Clinic heart specialist Dr. Steven Nissen. He said the results show "it's unhealthy to have excess body fat whether you're an athlete or not."
Dr. Daniel Jones, a former American Heart Association president, said more favorable results on some measures "shouldn't be reassuring" because high blood pressure is so closely related to future heart problems.
Justin Bannan, a 6-foot-3, 310-pound defensive tackle for the Baltimore Ravens was among the subjects. By standard criteria, he'd be considered obese with a BMI over 38. Other than that, Bannan said his results were "pretty normal" and he feels "pretty fit for the size I am. The problem is when you're done playing, as a lineman, you're going to have to make some changes" to avoid health risks, he said.
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