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Study: Former NFL players live longer than typical male

Former NFL players are living longer than other men in the general population, said a study the league sent to retirees Tuesday.

The study by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health found 334 deceased men in a sampling of 3,439 retired NFL players, while 625 deaths are expected for the same number of men in the general population.

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Player safety on the field and the health of former players has been a burning topic in the sports world, as hundreds of NFL retirees are suing the league over the long-term health effects associated with playing the game. The NFL has said player safety has always been a top priority.

The study found that players had a much lower rate of cancer-related deaths, with 85 dying from the disease as opposed to a projected 146 based on estimates from the general population. One reason for that could be low levels of smoking among athletes, but the institute did not attempt to contact former players about their smoking habits.

Larger players, particularly defensive linemen, had a higher level of deaths from heart disease, 41 as opposed to an expected 29. There were 498 defensive linemen studied. Offensive and defensive linemen are likely to have a higher body mass index, a measuring factor for obesity.

Overall, though, the study showed that the risk of players dying of heart disease was lower than the general population, with 126 deaths while the anticipated number was 186.

The institute is also studying neurological causes of death among the NFL players, including Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's and ALS, which is better known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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