Health: It’s safer to play baseball than hockey or football: Doc

Today, what’s the best message that parents can give their children about sports? I’d be particularly concerned if a child wanted to get involved in football or hockey. I’d try to convince him or her it’s safer to play baseball. Now, a report in Men’s Health Resources, reveals this is prudent advice.

Marc Weisskopf is professor of environmental epidemiology and physiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston. His 10-year study compares mortality rates and health of 10,500 major league baseball (MLB) players with those involved in other major league sports.

First, Weisskopf has bad news for the rest of us mortals. His research reveals that MLB players tend to live 24% longer than the average American male. This figure should make us take a good look of what we’re doing wrong.

His study also shows that MLB players have a lower death rate than those playing in the National Football League. The football player’s downfall is becoming a victim of neurodegenerative diseases and heart problems. This part of Weisskopf’s study isn’t shocking. Rather it further confirms other studies on brain trauma.

I’ve never seen MLB players butt heads like mountain rams. Unlike hockey players, they never try to decapitate their opponent’s heads on the ice or hurl them into the boards of an arena.

But Weisskopf’s research also verifies that parental common sense about brain injury in football or hockey is valid. After all, why would anyone believe it makes sense to repeatedly traumatize the head, whatever way it’s done?

What is more interesting are the report’s other medical discoveries. For example, how do you explain that, compared to U.S. males, MLB players show a 20% lower death rate from cancer, 19% from heart diseases and stroke, 33% from respiratory disease, a shocking 46% from diabetes and 59% from suicide?

So what can the rest of us learn from this study? According to a report by Dr. David E. Conroy, published in Obesity Research and Clinical Medicine, the average weight of an MLB player has gradually increased over the last 145 years. This rise coincides with the use of steroids and increased muscle mass, which makes it easier to hit the ball farther.

But their increase in weight has not been as great as that of the general population. This helps to explain why MLBP live 24% longer and have less chance of Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Weisskopf adds that athletes live longer because becoming a professional MLB player demands good health from the start. And, unless they keep in top shape, they won’t remain long in the league. This means watching their weight, diet and exercising.

Why they have a lower death rate from cancer is harder to explain. But an increase in exercise has been linked to a decrease in some malignancy.

But why is the rate of suicide so low in MLB players? Maybe this answer is a no-brainer. MLB players are well paid, enjoy travelling together, and from my experience with them, they enjoy plenty of laughter, which is good medicine.

Yogi Berra, the philosopher king of the New York Yankees, kept the team laughing with his bizarre remarks, such as “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Or, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.”

I’d prefer my child laughing with a baseball team than playing contact sports. Laughing has never caused brain concussion.

Readers can write Dr. Gifford-Jones at

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