College athletes: Fit now, unhealthy later?
Although they are in peak condition during their athletic careers, college athletes often struggle to remain active later in life, according to an Indiana University study. By middle-age, former elite athletes may face limitations in day-to-day activities resulting from injuries during their playing days.
While it is well-known college athletes suffer more severe injuries than non-athletes, lead study author Janet Simon was surprised to find that the former athletes also rated worse on depression, fatigue, and sleep scales.
“Division I athletes may sacrifice their future health-related quality of life for their brief athletic career in college,” Simon said in a statement.
The study, published in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, compared former Division I athletes with non-collegiate athletes now between 40-65 years old. These non-athletes, who were still recreationally active in college, reported better health-related quality of life scores than the collegiate athletes.
The former Division I athletes were more than twice as likely to report current limitations in daily activity and exercise. Two-thirds reported having experienced a major injury and half reported chronic injuries, again greater than twice the rate observed in non-athletes. So, although sports encourage physical activity and exercise is recommended throughout life, the research indicates that “the demands of Division I athletics may result in injuries that linger into adulthood and possibly make participants incapable of staying active as they age.”
Simon also suggests another reason former athletes might struggle could be the loss of resources previously available to them on a college campus. After years of structure and access to expertise through services such as strength and conditioning coaches and nutritionists, athletes are usually on their own after finishing school.
“Many of the Division I sports are not lifelong sports, so it is important for the athletes to find sports and activities that can keep them active as they age,” according to Simon. “The most important thing is to stay active. You may have been a former athlete, but unless you stay active your whole life, you may be decreasing your quality of life.”
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.