John Urschel retired from the NFL this August.
Many of you may not had heard of him, but Urshel was a true scholar warrior. He was a third-year offensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens, who had a passion for hitting in the trenches. In the off-season, he was studying for his Ph. D in mathematics from M.I.T with multiple articles published in multiple peer reviewed journals.
What triggered his retirement? In late July, a research article in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association showed profound linkages between chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and football. 110 out of 111 brains from NFL players who had donated their brains to science had been shown on autopsy to have CTE, including players who had been publicly known to have the disease such as Ken Stabler, former quarterback of the Oakland Raiders. It also looks as if it is not just the head jarring hits, but the ongoing collisions that happen between offensive and defensive lineman on every play that are contributing to this. Urschel made a logical decision to protect his brain from further damage faced with overwhelming evidence on the risk. He retired two days after the JAMA article was published.
The NFL is a microcosm of public trends. Brain health has become the #1 issue for the league – specifically how to prevent concussions and how to mitigate the impact on players health.
The flip side of the concussion issue is the potential to optimize brain health to improve ongoing performance. Former NFC Super Bowl teams, Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons have all recently publicly embraced a structured and systematic approach for mediation and mindfulness.
Players have apps and feedback machines that help them improve the quality of their mediation and improve their mental focus. The teams have embraced these approaches as they all see accumulating evidence that improving mental focus and mindfulness can contribute to better athletic and team results.
Brain Health is where physical fitness was 50 years ago. Advances in technology are allowing us to see brain structure and function, much clearer than before. The complexity of the brain is starting to unravel, piece by piece. New evidence is popping up monthly. As a result, we all have the ability to take much better care of our brains than we did twenty years ago. At the same time, brain health can be scary. Most of us have known someone with Alzheimer’s disease, which robs us of our dignity and humanness.
Craig Tanio, MD is the CEO and Co-Founder of Rezilir Heath and an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Rezilir is a team of board certified clinicians that deliver integrative medicine through a functional approach. They offer multiple programs designed to reverse chronic illness and disease. Rezilir specializes in the prevention and remission of early Alzheimer’s Disease and mild cognitive impairment.