Objective: To study different aspects of health in master athletes.
Design: A 16-year follow-up study.
Participants: All male Finnish master athletes (N=102, mean age 58.3 years) who in 1985 participated in track and field athletic World Veterans Games. Controls were men, who as young adults had been classified as completely healthy (N=777, mean age 55.0 years).
Main outcome measurements: Health questionnaires at baseline (in 1985) and at 10-year and 16-year follow-ups.
Results: During follow-up, the master athletes self-rated their health as better (P<0.001) and they coped better with leisure-time daily activities (P=0.024) than controls. The adjusted risk for shoulder region (odds ratio 2.84, P<0.03) and Achilles tendon rupture (14.87, P<0.01) after the age of 45 years was higher in the athletes than in the controls. At the 16-year follow-up, none of the athletes, but 9% of controls reported having diabetes mellitus. The adjusted odds ratio of having at least 1 metabolic syndrome disease was 0.43 (P=0.01) in the athletes compared with the controls. At follow-up among subjects without reported coronary heart disease in 1985, the age-adjusted hazard ratio (HR) in the athletes compared with the controls of death from natural-cause was 0.41 (P<0.01).
Conclusions: Master athletes had a lower risk of chronic diseases than the controls. It remains to be determined how far this advantage is due to initial selection and/or incomplete adjustment for covariates.
Clinical relevance: There seems to be no such health risks as to why those who have good training background and feel healthy should avoid participating in master athletics.