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NFL Players Live Longer, Suffer Less From Cancer, Heart Disease

National Football League players live longer than men in the general population and are less likely to suffer from cancer or heart disease, according to a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

NIOSH, a government research agency, studied all 3,439 men who played at least five seasons in the NFL from 1959 to 1988.

Of those, 334 were deceased, compared with an expectation of 625, based on estimates from the general population. While the agency expected 146 cancer-related deaths, 85 players died from the disease. There were 126 deaths from heart disease against an expectation of 186, according to an e-mailed summary of the findings.

While NIOSH didn’t look at neurodegenerative causes of death, the institute is now studying incidences of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease among NFL players.

The league sent a summary of the findings to 3,200 former players yesterday. The study was commissioned by the National Football League Players Association in 1990 because of concerns about shortened life span and heart disease among players.

While players overall are less likely to contract heart disease, some are more likely to, the study said.

Players who had a body mass index above 30 during their playing career, making them obese, had twice the risk of dying from heart disease than other players.

Also, African-American players had a 69 percent higher risk of death from heart disease than white players and defensive lineman had a 42 percent higher chance of death from heart disease compared with the general population.

“All other positions had a lower chance of dying of heart disease compared to the general population,” the study’s summary said. “We are not certain why heart disease was higher among the defensive lineman. This was unexpected and needs further study.”

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