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Former male elite athletes and risk of hypertension in later life

Laine, Merja K.a,b; Kujala, Urho M.c; Eriksson, Johan G.a,d,e,f; Wasenius, Niko S.a; Kaprio, Jaakkog,h,i; Bäckmand, Heli M.g,j; Peltonen, Markkud; Heinonen, Ollik; Jula, Anttil; Sarna, Seppog

doi: 10.1097/HJH.0000000000000601

Objective: The aim of this study was to assess whether a former career as an elite athlete protects from hypertension in later life. We hypothesized that vigorous physical activity during young adulthood protects against hypertension later in life.

Methods: The study population (n = 3440) consists of 2037 former male elite athletes and 1403 matched controls. Of those, 599 (392 former athletes, 207 controls) participated in a clinical study in 2008. The athletes were divided into three groups: endurance, mixed and power sports. Assessment of hypertension was based on athletes’ entitlement to reimbursable antihypertensive medication from the Finnish Social Insurance Institution; among the clinical study participants, this was also based on self-reported current use of antihypertensive drugs or measured hypertension. The current volume of leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) was determined by questionnaires.

Results: Among the participants, the former athletes had lower age-adjusted prevalence of hypertension than the controls [odds ratio (OR) 0.69, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.49–0.98] and the endurance athletes had the lowest OR (OR 0.43, 95% CI 0.23–0.80). OR for the prevalence of hypertension decreased (OR 0.90, 95% CI 0.84–0.96 per 10 metabolic equivalent hours/week) when there was an increase in the volume of LTPA. The former athletes without blood pressure-lowering medication had significantly lower SBP than the controls [139.2 mmHg (SD 18.7) vs. 144.2 mmHg (SD 19.5)] (P = 0.027).

Conclusion: A former career as an elite athlete seems to be associated with a lower prevalence of hypertension in later life. The volume of current LTPA was inversely related to prevalence of hypertension.

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aDepartment of General Practice and Primary Healthcare

bVantaa Health Center/Network of Academic Health Centers, University of Helsinki, Helsinki

cDepartment of Health Sciences, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä

dDivision of Welfare and Health Promotion, Department of Chronic Disease Prevention, Diabetes Prevention Unit, National Institute for Health and Welfare

eFolkhälsan Research Centre

fUnit of General Practice, Helsinki University Central Hospital

gDepartment of Public Health, University of Helsinki

hDepartment of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, National Institute for Health and Welfare

iInstitute for Molecular Medicine, University of Helsinki, Helsinki

jCity of Vantaa, Health and Social Welfare Department, Vantaa

kPaavo Nurmi Centre & Department of Health and Physical Activity, University of Turku

lPopulation Research Unit, Department of Chronic Disease Prevention, National Institute for Health and Welfare, Turku, Finland

Correspondence to Merja K. Laine, Tukholmankatu 8 B, 00290 Helsinki, Finland. Tel: +35 8451223950; fax: +35 8919127536; e-mail:

Abbreviations: BP, blood pressure; CI, confidence interval; CVD, cardiovascular disease; LTPA, leisure time physical activity; MAP, mean arterial pressure; MET, metabolic equivalent of task; MET-h, metabolic equivalent hours; OR, odds ratio; PP, pulse pressure

Received 15 February, 2014

Revised 11 March, 2015

Accepted 11 March, 2015

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