Incidents of concentrated exertion could raise blood pressure

A recent study published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation has found that college football players are at risk of developing high blood pressure. A previous study of competitive rowers at Harvard University did not find a connection, but this may be due to the nature of sports, like football, that involve periodic episodes of intense exertion.

While limited in its scope, the study conducted by the Cardiovascular Performance Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, found that more than half of all first-year football players at a certain university developed high blood pressure by the end of the playing season. Increased blood pressure was especially associated with a family history of hypertension, rapid weight gain during the season, and playing in lineman positions.

Researchers documented higher blood pressure levels among 113 first-year college players. After the season, researchers noted that 47 percent of players were considered pre-hypertensive and14 percent had stage 1 hypertension.

Another finding was structural changes of the players’ left ventricle, the heart’s key pumping chamber, which if overworked might indicate worsening heart health. In this study, left ventricle thickening (hypertrophy) was more prevalent among football players than endurance athletes, and it was significantly greater among linemen.

The study’s senior investigator, Aaron L. Baggish, M.D., associate director of the Cardiovascular Performance Program, said that the aim is not to scare players, but to stress that “early and careful monitoring of young football players and timely treatment could improve their heart health later in life.” He added that high blood pressure is not good at any age, but especially in the first two decades of life.

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