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Older Elite Football Players Have Reduced Cardiac and Osteoporosis Risk Factors


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: July 2007 - Volume 39 - Issue 7 - p 1124-1130
doi: 10.1249/01.mss.0b013e3180557466
BASIC SCIENCES: Original Investigations

Introduction/Purpose: Aging with a sedentary lifestyle is associated with increased risk for developing cardiovascular disease (CVD), osteoporosis, and sarcopenia. The purpose of this study was to determine whether former professional football athleticism would be associated with reduced risk factors for CVD and osteoporosis, and higher muscle mass in later life.

Methods: Maximal aerobic capacity (V˙O2max), body composition, and lipid and glucose risk factors for CVD were compared between 16 older former professional football players and never-athletic men matched for age, body mass index, current physical activity, and race. Regional bone mineral density of the football players was compared with age-matched reference norms.

Results: Despite greater physical activity into middle age, the former football players had similar V˙O2max as the controls. Former football players had 26% lower total-body fat mass, 26% lower visceral adipose tissue area, and 13% higher muscle mass compared with the controls (P < 0.05). High-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) levels were 37% higher (P < 0.001), HDL2-C levels were fourfold higher (P < 0.001), and triglycerides were 31% lower (P < 0.05) in the former football players than the controls. The former football players also had 20% and 6% higher total-body bone mineral content and density than the controls (P < 0.05) and higher lumbar spine, femoral neck, and greater trochanter bone mineral density than similar age-referenced norms (P < 0.05).

Conclusion: Elite athlete physical activity status in young adulthood, and remaining physically active in middle age, may confer body composition changes that are sustained in older adulthood. In this small sample of older men, former successful professional athletes who remained physically active in middle age have a favorable body composition and reduced risk factors for CVD and osteoporosis compared with healthy age- and BMI-matched older men.

1Baltimore Veterans Administration Medical Center, Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center (GRECC), Baltimore, MD; and 2University of Maryland School of Medicine, Department of Medicine, Division of Gerontology, Baltimore, MD

Address for correspondence: Alice S. Ryan, Ph.D., Baltimore VA Medical Center, VAMC/GRECC BT/18/GR, 10 N. Greene Street, Baltimore MD 21201; E-mail:

Submitted for publication May 2006.

Accepted for publication March 2007.

©2007The American College of Sports Medicine