Physical activity is favorable for health, and vigorous sports activity is particularly beneficial. This study investigates the association between changes in sports participation patterns over time and cardio-metabolic and self-perceived health outcomes.
Data from 3752 adults (18 to 79 years) who participated in 2 national health interview and examination surveys in 1997-1999 and 2008-2011 were included, with a mean follow-up time of about 12 years. A change in self-reported sports activity was analyzed with respect to the incidence of type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease (CHD), hypertension, obesity, dyslipidemia, metabolic syndrome (MetS), and poor self-perceived health. Participants with already pre-existing disease or risk factor of interest at baseline were excluded from the analysis. Being sufficiently active in sports was specified as doing sports for at least 1-2 h per week, and 4 activity categories were defined: 1) inactive at both time points (inactive-inactive), 2) inactive at baseline and active at follow-up (inactive-active), 3) active at baseline and inactive at follow-up (active-inactive), and 4) active at both time points (active-active). Associations between sports activity engagement and health outcomes were estimated by logistic regression models with different stages of adjustments.
Not engaging in any regular sports activity at both time points (inactive-inactive) was associated with higher rates of type 2 diabetes (OR = 1.82, 95%CI: 1.08-3.08), CHD (OR = 1.82, 95%CI: 1.16-2.84), hypertension (OR = 1.36, 95%CI: 1.03-1.81), MetS (OR = 1.58, 95%CI: 1.08-2.32) and self-perceived poor health (OR = 2.54, 95%CI: 1.83-3.53) compared to doing regular sports for a minimum of 1-2 h per week over time (active-active). In case of change from inactivity to any regular sports activity (inactive-active), the rate of risk factor occurrence was not statistically different from the active-active reference group except for poor self-perceived health, but it was higher for type 2 diabetes (OR = 2.15, 95%CI: 1.12-4.14) and CHD (OR = 1.77, 95%CI: 1.03-3.03). Being active at baseline but inactive at follow-up (active-inactive) was not associated with higher disease incidence of type 2 diabetes (OR = 0.70, 95%CI: 0.25-1.97) and CHD (OR = 1.20, 95%CI: 0.49-2.99) but was associated with higher rates of hypertension (OR = 1.61, 95%CI: 1.11-2.34), obesity (OR = 2.34, 95%CI: 1.53-3.57), MetS (OR = 1.70, 95%CI: 1.11-2.63) and self-perceived poor health (OR = 2.16, 95%CI: 1.53-3.07) at follow-up.
Even a low weekly quantity (1-2 h) of regular sports activity is partly associated with health benefits. Being formerly but not currently active was not associated with an increased disease incidence but was associated with a higher risk factor development compared to the reference group (active-active). Becoming active was preventive for risk factor development but was not preventive for disease incidence, which probably means that health benefits from sports activity are not sustainable and disease incidence is only shifted to a later period in life. For this reason, the promotion of and commitment to regular sports activity should be addressed as early as possible over the lifespan to achieve the best health benefits.

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