Sports Medicine Research: In the Lab & In the Field: Former Division III Female Collegiate Athletes Report Better Overall Long-Term Health (Sports Med Res)

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Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Former Division III Female Collegiate Athletes Report Better Overall Long-Term Health

Female Sport Participation Effect on Long-Term Health-Related Quality of Life

Stracciolini A, Amar-Dolan L, Howell DR, Alex T, Berkner P, Sandstrom NJ, Peluso M, Kurtz M, Rebekah M, Meehan WP.  Clin J Sport Med. 2018; 00: 1-7. DOI:10.1097/JSM.0000000000000645

Take Home Message: Females who were former NCAA Division III athletes were more likely to report several long-term health benefits (i.e., very good/excellent overall health, healthy exercise habits, less chronic health conditions) than non-athletes.  Despite these positive benefits, the authors noted that former athletes reported poorer mobility and higher anxiety.

Sport participation is often viewed as having a positive effect on physical and psychological health; however, the long-term effects of sport participation remain largely unknown.  Furthermore, female sport participation numbers have drastically increased, and we know even less about the long-term effects of sports on females.  Hence, these researchers surveyed NCAA Division III institution alumni between 40 to 70 years of age to determine the relationship between a history of collegiate sport participation and health outcomes and quality of life. About 3700 alumni (8%) responded to the survey out of almost 48,000 contacted alumni. Around 1600 responses were from females and almost half of them were former Division III collegiate athletes.  After accounting for age, a greater proportion of former female athletes reported excellent/very good overall health, working out more than 3 times per week, and never smoking.  Additionally, former female athletes had a smaller proportion of chronic health issues (i.e., hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity) than their peers.  The researchers also reported that former female athletes had poorer mobility and higher anxiety.

These researchers reported that female collegiate participation in sports was overall associated with better long-term health decades after participation.  This is very important because female sport participation significantly increased after Title IX, and it seems to have an overall positive impact in the long-term.  This is interesting because these authors found that former Division III athletes met physical activity guidelines in a greater proportion than nonathletes, which is contradictory to a previous Sports Med Res post which showed former Division I athletes had higher body fat percentages and performed worse in physical fitness testing in comparison to nonathletes.  It would be interesting to see how former Division II athletes felt decades after participation, as well as to investigate further why this disparity exists.  Could it be linked to level of play, training times, or possibly a history of injury?  Within these former Division III athletes – there was an association with poorer mobility.  It would be interesting to follow up on whether this is clinically meaningful, and possibly linked to previous injuries.  A deeper dive into what sports they played, how long they played them, in addition to injury history and chronic joint pain may be an interesting next step with these former athletes.  Much of the long-term research regarding osteoarthritis and physical pain has been completed within former elite male athletes.  Overall, being a female who is a former Division III athlete was associated with better long-term quality of life, exercise participation, and less chronic health problems.  However, it may be important for clinicians to develop screening or educational materials to identify athletes at risk for mobility or anxiety to ensure they receive the care they need.  

Questions for Discussion:  What do you do as a clinician to help educate athletes about long-term health while they are under your direct care?  Are there any former athlete alumni that have come back to you and shared stories that have informed your current clinical care?

Written by: Nicole Cattano
Reviewed by: Jeffrey Driban

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