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Health-promoting behaviours and concussion history are associated with cognitive function, mood-related symptoms and emotional–behavioural dyscontrol in former NFL players: an NFL-LONG Study


Objectives To examine the relationships among self-reported sport-related concussion (SRC) history and current health-promoting behaviours (exercise frequency, diet quality and sleep duration) with self-reported measures of brain health (cognitive function, symptoms of depression and anxiety and emotional–behavioural dyscontrol) in former NFL players.

Methods In this cross-sectional study, a questionnaire was sent to former NFL players. Respondents reported SRC history (categorical: 0; 1–2; 3–5; 6–9; 10+ concussions), number of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic and resistance exercise sessions per week, diet quality (Rapid Eating Assessment for Participants—Shortened) and average nightly sleep duration. Outcomes were Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System Cognitive Function, Depression, and Anxiety, and Neuro-QoL Emotional-Behavioral Dyscontrol domain T-scores. Multivariable linear regression models were fit for each outcome with SRC history, exercise frequency, diet quality and sleep duration as explanatory variables alongside select covariates.

Results Multivariable regression models (n=1784) explained approximately 33%–38% of the variance in each outcome. For all outcomes, SRC history (0.144≤|β|≤0.217) was associated with poorer functioning, while exercise frequency (0.064≤|β|≤0.088) and diet quality (0.057≤|β|≤0.086) were associated with better functioning. Sleeping under 6 hours per night (0.061≤|β|≤0.093) was associated with worse depressive symptoms, anxiety and emotional–behavioural dyscontrol.

Conclusion Several variables appear to be associated with mood and perceived cognitive function in former NFL players. SRC history is non-modifiable in former athletes; however, the effects of increasing postplaying career exercise frequency, making dietary improvements, and obtaining adequate sleep represent important potential opportunities for preventative and therapeutic interventions.

  • concussion
  • american football
  • diet
  • exercise
  • Sleep

Data availability statement

The data from this survey study are available upon reasonable request. Inquiries may be sent to Dr ZYK.

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