Life Span Exercise
Among Elite Intercollegiate Student Athletes

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.

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.

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?

by: Jane McDevitt, PhD
by: Jeff Driban


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