Playing professional football, especially if you are a lineman, may shorten your life, a new study suggests.

The University of Minnesota researchers thought that perhaps professional football players are unlike “American men in general” in ways that determine their future health.

“When we started digging into the literature on later life health outcomes for professional American football players, we were initially surprised to find a relatively large number of studies that found football players lived longer than American men in general,” said study co-author Gina Rumore. She is program development director of the university’s Institute for Social Research and Data Innovation.

“We believe a better strategy for understanding the association between playing football and mortality is to compare football players to men who are like them in every respect — except they never played professional football,” Rumore added in a university news release.

So, the researchers compared men drafted to play professional football in the 1950s, some of whom played and some of whom never played in any professional league.

The investigators then compared professional football players who began their careers in the late 1980s through the mid-1990s to a nationally representative group of men who were employed, not disabled, not poor and who had completed at least three years of college.

The first analysis showed that linemen die earlier than otherwise similar men.

In the second analysis, the researchers saw that 3.1% of football players died within 25 years, while only 2.3% of their peers did.

“Professional football players may live longer than ‘American men in general,’ but this does not mean that playing professional football extends players’ lives,” said lead study author Rob Warren, a professor in the College of Liberal Arts.

“In fact, when we compare players to otherwise comparable men, linemen’s lives are shorter and other players’ lives are about the same length,” Warren said.

The study, published Oct. 30 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was funded by the Minnesota Population Center and the University of Minnesota Life Course Center, both of which receive core funding from the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

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SOURCE: University of Minnesota, news release, Oct. 30, 2023