Impact of Previous Athletic Experience on Current Physical Fitness in Former
Collegiate Athletes and Noncollegiate Athletes
JE, & Docherty CL. Sports Health.
2017; Published online ahead of print
Take Home Message: Former collegiate athletes were less
physically fit and healthy than adults who were physically active in college
about 30 years after participation.  This
highlights a need for early identification, prevention, and education to help
these at-risk individuals. 
Participation in sports and vigorous
physical activity is typically a positive and healthy part of a young person’s life.  However, a physically active individual is at
greater risk of injury, which could negatively affect their long-term wellness.  The authors of this study compared the
physical activity health of former NCAA Division I athletes and compared their
performance to non-athletes 20 to 40 years after college.  Two hundred participants (100 former athletes
and 100 people who were physically active in college) with an average age of 51
years, completed questionnaires and fitness assessments including body fat,
flexibility, muscular endurance/strength, and cardiorespiratory endurance
tests.  Almost 80% of former athletes
suffered an injury that resulted in lost participation time while playing. About
half of the athletes reported being diagnosed with osteoarthritis while only
10% of the non-athletes reported being diagnosed with osteoarthritis. Overall,
former athletes performed worse in all physical fitness testing (e.g.,
completing a mile walk on average 2.4 minutes slower) in comparison with non-athletes.  Former athletes also had higher body fat
percentages (about 29%) compared with non-athletes (about 21%).
These authors found that former
competitive collegiate athletes had worse physical health than
non-athletes.  While this is a limited
sample, it does open our eyes to the fundamental need for more education
focusing on transitioning collegiate athletes into the general population after
competitive careers (e.g., long-term wellness). 
However, one cannot ignore the high prevalence of injuries.  The question remains whether it is physical
issues from their injury that is limiting their current physical activity, or
if there are other psychosocial components that may contribute to their overall
negative physical health.  This
highlights the importance of a new curriculum addition to CAATE’s Proposed
Standards for Professional Programs: “Develop and implement wellness strategies
to mitigate the risk for long-term health conditions across the lifespan”. The
document notes that this includes osteoarthritis. Based on these results, we
need to be more proactive in mitigating the risk of poor long-term health
outcomes. Interestingly, the former athlete cohort had a relatively large
portion of former football players.  It
would be interesting to see what the athletes’ competitive weights were versus
what they currently weigh.  Football is
one of those sports where “larger” individuals may be more successful at
certain positions.  It would also be
helpful to see if the results of the study were different without football
since the physically active cohort did not have the opportunity to compete in a
comparable collision sport.  Finally, it
would be interesting to see if the number of injuries or whether they were
acute or chronic injuries influenced the current physical fitness levels.  Regardless, as clinicians, we need to realize
that our patients may go on to live relatively unhealthy lives after they leave
our care.  For example, we previously saw that
most former college athletes fail to meet recommended exercise guidelines. As
healthcare providers, early intervention, education, and preparation for these
at-risk athletes should be an essential component of our clinical practice.
Question for Discussion:  Do you talk to your athletes about long-term wellness and healthy living after competitive sport participation?
by: Nicole Cattano
by: Jeffrey Driban