Female participation in sport has grown substantially over the last 4 decades.
We investigated the association between sports participation and (1) later-life health outcomes and (2) later-life quality-of-life (QoL) measures among female college alumni.
We conducted a cross-sectional study of female alumni between the ages of 40 and 70 years. Participants completed a questionnaire that included QoL measures assessing general health, negative consequences of alcohol use, mental health, and other self-reported health outcomes. We divided alumni into athletes and nonathletes. Between-group comparisons of health outcomes were adjusted for age; QoL measures were adjusted for age, exercise habits, cigarette smoking, alcohol use, and comorbidities.
Questionnaires were sent to 47 836 alumni, 3702 (8%) responded. Forty-four percent of female respondents participated in collegiate sports. After adjusting for age, female respondents who participated in collegiate sports were more likely to exercise >3×/week (61.8% vs 50.2%; P ≤ 0.001), view themselves in good/great health (91% vs 85%; P < 0.001), and less likely to have ever smoked (13.6% vs 25.3%; P ≤ 0.001) or used recreational drugs (7.5% vs 9.5%; P = 0.018). A smaller proportion of female athletes reported hypertension (5.5% vs 13.5%; P ≤ 0.001), high cholesterol (9.9% vs 17.0%; P < 0.001), and obesity (3.1% vs 6.8%; P = 0.001) compared with nonathletes. Participation in sports was, however, associated with decreased mobility (R2 = 0.1826; P = 0.002) and increased anxiety (R2 = 0.039; P = 0.016) QoL scores.
Sports participation for female collegiate athletes was associated with mostly positive health outcomes, but also with lower mobility and increased anxiety QoL scores.