Occurrence of chronic disease in former top-level athletes. Predominance of benefits, risks or selection effects?

Sports Med. 2003;33(8):553-61. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200333080-00001.


Former elite athletes from most sports disciplines have lower overall morbidity risk and enjoy better self-rated health in later years compared with the general population and matched controls who were healthy at young age. This is seen particularly among former endurance athletes who have a lower incidence of coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Most often data are available only for men. Based on the available data, participation in elite sports cannot be regarded as an overall health hazard. However, aside from a high risk of acute injury in specific sports, possible negative effects of long-standing athletic activity on the development of osteoarthritis should not be neglected. It should also be remembered that elite athletes are a biologically and genetically select group who are not representative of the population at large. Given the nature of the available data, the possible health consequences of recent changes in different characteristics of sports, such as training practices, professionalism and use of doping, cannot be properly predicted.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Chronic Disease / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Finland / epidemiology
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Factors
  • Sports*