Cardiometabolic health among male former elite athletes

Regular physical activity is one of the cornerstones in the prevention of chronic diseases. The aim of this study was to assess whether a former career as a male elite athlete associates with various cardiometabolic disorders and whether it has any effect on leukocyte telomere length in later life.

The original study population (N=4136) consists of 2424 male former elite athletes and 1712 matched controls. Of those, 599 (392 former athletes, 207 controls) participated in a clinical study in 2008. The athletes were divided into three groups based upon their previous career: endurance, mixed and power sports. The clinical study in 2008 included a physical examination, laboratory tests, and several questionnaires. Data on use of medication was obtained from the Finnish Social Insurance Institution.

Among the participants, the former elite athletes tend to have lower age-adjusted prevalence of type 2 diabetes compared with the controls (odds ratio [OR] 0.68, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.45-1.01). The male former athletes also had lower age-adjusted risk for hypertension (OR 0.69, 95% CI 0.49-0.98), metabolic syndrome (OR 0.57, 95% CI 0.40-0.81), and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (OR 0.61, 95% CI 0.42-0.88) compared to the controls. The former athletes had significantly lower age-adjusted body fat percentage compared to the controls (p=0.021) whereas no significant differences in mean age-adjusted leukocyte telomere lenght between the athlete and control groups (p = 0.845) were observed. Moreover, with aging the former athletes maintained their physically active lifestyle better than their controls.

A male former elite athlete career seems to protect from type 2 diabetes, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease at older age. It was also associated with a more favorable body composition. The volume of current leisure time physical activity was inversely associated with these cardiometabolic outcomes.


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City (for University):
University of Helsinki