Background: Physical activity in adolescence has been reported to enhance physical activity in adulthood, but detailed information on the enhancing effect of different types of adolescent sports is lacking. We evaluated the association between participation in different types of adolescent sports and physical activity in adulthood.
Methods: The sample comprised 7794 males and females who responded to the mailed questions on physical activity status at age 14 years and at age 31 years in follow-up surveys of the Northern Finland 1966 birth cohort. The associations between adolescent participation in different sports and adult physical activity was examined by multinomial logistic regression.
Results: Frequent participation in sports after school hours in adolescence was associated with a high level of physical activity in adulthood. In males, adolescent participation in ball games, intensive endurance sports, track and field, and combat sports was associated with a high or very high level of adult activity. In females, the same applied to adolescent participation in running, orienteering, track and field, cycling, gymnastics, and riding. Adolescent participation in ball games increased participation in ball games in adulthood, especially in males, while participation in cross-country skiing, running, and orienteering provided the greatest stimulation to carry over of some endurance sport to adulthood.
Conclusions: Participation in sports at least once a week among females and twice a week among males was associated with high level of physical activity in later life. Adolescent participation in the intensive endurance sports, and some sports that require and encourage diversified sports skills, appeared to be most beneficial with respect to the enhancement of adult physical activity.