Enlarge / Youth Pee-Wee football players wait to take the field. (credit: Getty | Kirby Lee)

Taking hard knocks early in life could shove football players toward neurological problems later, a new study suggests.

Among 214 former amateur and professional male football players, those who started playing early—particularly before the age of 12—had greater risks of reporting depression and impaired behavioral regulation and executive function around their 50s, researchers found. Their study, published today in Translational Psychiatry, adds to a pileup of data that suggests playing tackle football as a youth can have long-term health impacts.

The researchers, led by neurologist Robert Stern at Boston University, specifically homed in on those that began playing tackle before the age of 12, a typical cut-off period for major brain development.

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