More than 25 million Americans play soccer, the world’s most popular sport. Soccer significantly benefits brain health by boosting aerobic capacity and oxygen and blood flow to the brain, but it also has a downside: Recent studies show that highly repetitive heading of the ball is associated with structural brain changes and worse cognitive performance similar to brain damage caused by concussion.
Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine have now received a five-year, $3.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to fund a study employing neuroimaging, exercise testing and cognitive testing that assesses the trade-offs between soccer’s aerobic brain benefits and the adverse effects from heading.
Soccer players and their parents have been rightly warned about the potential risks of heading in soccer, but it leads to mixed messages about the wisdom of playing the sport,” said Michael L. Lipton, MD, PhD, Professor of Radiology and Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences; Associate Professor, Dominick P. Purpura Department of Neuroscience; Associate Director, Gruss Magnetic Resonance Research Center; and Medical Director, MRI Services, Montefiore Einstein. “This grant will allow us to determine soccer’s trade-offs with respect to brain health so that people can make informed decisions, and we can establish evidence-based guidelines for heading.”