Sports Medicine Research: In the Lab & In the Field: Does Your Level of Exercise Match Up Against Retired Elite Athletes?...Probably! (Sports Med Res)
Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Does Your Level of Exercise Match Up Against Retired Elite Athletes?...Probably!

Life Span Exercise Among Elite Intercollegiate Student Athletes

Sorenson SC., Romano R., Azen SP., Schroeder TE., Salem GJ. Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach. 2014; Ahead of print

Take Home Message: Athletes at a NCAA Division I institution demonstrate clinically important differences in exercise behavior compared with nonathletes; however, former athletes had similar exercise behaviors as nonathletes.

Regular exercise provides health benefits (e.g., reduced cardiovascular disease) but yet competitive sports are associated with health risks (e.g., long-term implications after head or joint injuries). Surprisingly, we know very little about the long-term health and exercise behaviors among former college athletes. This may be informative because if former athletes are not regularly exercising then we may need to teach athletes about the health benefits associated with maintaining a healthy lifestyle after they stop playing. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to document life span exercise behaviors and attitudes among former college athletes and nonathletes. Secondarily, the authors evaluated the relationship between exercise and cardiopulmonary health. The authors recruited 496 students and alumni of the University of Southern California: 380 current athletes, 44 alumni athletes, 31 current student nonathletes, and 41 alumni nonathletes. All participants completed the Health Related Quality of Life survey and the Trojan Life Champions (TLC) survey, which is a health inventory that inquires about clinical and psychosocial conditions, weekly exercise hours, and perception of exercise and health. Current student athletes reported more exercise time (15 hours) compared with nonathletes (4 hours). Furthermore, current student athletes reported exercise as more important than nonathletes. In contrast, alumni athletes and nonathletes reported similar exercise volumes and perceptions of exercise.  The number of exercise hours that the nonathletes reported was consistent across age groups but alumni student athletes reported much lower exercise volumes than current student athletes. Participants who were compliant with ACSM exercise guidelines reported better cardiopulmonary health. Eighty-six percent of current student athletes met ACSM weekly exercise guidelines. Alumni student athletes and nonathletes were equally likely (~40%) to meet ACSM exercise guidelines.

Current NCAA Division I student athletes reported substantially higher clinically relevant volumes of exercise per week compared with nonathletes. This is not surprising since they must follow a regimented exercise schedule; however, it was interesting to note that alumni student athletes and nonathletes reported similar amounts of exercise. This suggests that former student athletes fail to maintain elevated levels of exercise across their life spans. This is concerning because the authors also found that compliance with ACSM exercise guidelines was associated with better cardiopulmonary health. While it is important to remember that this study is a convenience sample from one university it may help raise awareness that we need to better understand the long-term health of our athletes. This could be important because maintaining a healthy body weight and lifestyle may reduce an athlete’s risk for chronic diseases that they may be at risk for – particularly if they have a history of an injury (e.g., osteoarthritis).  It may be beneficial for us to consider the need for wellness programs to help educate our student athletes about the benefits of life long healthy living. Medical personnel should be aware of the decline of exercise among former Division I athletes, and help promote exercise guidelines following sport retirement.

Questions for Discussion: Do you think high school athletes that do not play sports in college have declines in physical activity? Do you think athletes that play division I, II, III, or club sports have similar exercise routines after graduation?

Written by: Jane McDevitt, PhD
Reviewed by: Jeff Driban

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Sorenson, S., Romano, R., Azen, S., Schroeder, E., & Salem, G. (2014). Life Span Exercise Among Elite Intercollegiate Student Athletes Sports Health: A Multidisciplinary Approach DOI: 10.1177/1941738114534813

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