Background and aims: Physical exercise plays an important role in the prevention and reduction of disabilities in elderly people. The aim of this study was to determine the role of physical activity in the physical and psychological functioning of daily living in a cohort of former elite male athletes representing different sports, and controls of middle and old age.
Methods: Subjects were 664 former elite male athletes (mean age 64.4 years) and 500 controls (62.0 years) in middle and old age. Subjects were mailed "Physical activity and health survey" questionnaires in 1985 and 1995. The primary outcomes the physical and psychological functioning of daily living--were assessed in 1995 using items from the Mini-Finland Health Survey. Logistic regression was used for longitudinal as well as cross-sectional analyses to estimate odds ratios (OR) for poor physical and psychological functioning of daily living in relation to recreational physical activity adjusted for age, sport group, life-style, BMI, mood, chronic diseases, personality characteristics, life-events and socio-economic status.
Results: In the longitudinal analysis, low levels of physical activity (lowest MET quintile vs highest quintile) in 1985 (OR 4.91, 95% confidence interval (CI) 2.02-11.9), older age (> or =70 yrs vs under 60 yrs OR 9.93, 95% CI 4.90-20.2), depression (OR 2.03, 95% CI 1.01-4.09) and anxiety in 1995 (OR 2.67, 95% CI 1.34-5.32) increased the risk of poor physical functioning of daily living in 1995, whereas an increase in a physical activity between 1985-1995 (OR 0.89, 95% CI 0.83-0.95) protected against poor physical functioning of daily living. A history of participating in specific types of sports, especially among certain power sports (weight-lifting and track & field throwers) (OR 0.19, 95% CI 0.06-0.60) and team sports (OR 0.34, 95% CI 0.15-0.81) did reveal a significant protective effect against poor psychological functioning of daily living in the longitudinal analysis.
Conclusions: This study suggests that an increase in physical exercise supports physical daily functionality. A specific history of sports participation promotes psychological well-being at an older age.