Do generations differ in sports participation and physical activity over the life course? Evidence from multiple datasets

Eur J Sport Sci. 2019 Nov;19(10):1395-1403. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2019.1600587. Epub 2019 Apr 12.


Generational differences in health-related factors will affect forecasts of future disease patterns and health care needs. We studied whether participation in sports activity and being physically active are different between 10-year generations over a part of their life course. We used three different datasets on Dutch adults: a cohort study running for 20 years, the Doetinchem Cohort Study (DCS), multiple yearly databases (2001-2015) from the Netherlands health interview study (HIS), and a retrospective cohort study on life time sports careers, the Sports Participation Monitor (SPM). Based on a different questionnaire in each study, frequencies of weekly sport participation and being physically active according to recommended levels were determined by generation and sex. All data sets showed that self-reported sport participation has been increasing with every 10-year generation already for many decades. Especially for those generations born in the 1930s up to the 1960s, sport participation is higher compared to their predecessors. For instance at age 50, 43% of those born in the 1940s engaged in sports activities compared to 55% of those born in the 1950s (DCS data). Physical activity according to recommended levels showed no systematic differences by generation. In conclusion, favourable generation-specific trends in participation in sports activities are found: recent generations are doing better than the older generations. It is unclear whether this also reflects higher levels of physical activity or lower levels of inactivity. Future research may reveal whether these developments also hold for other countries, and whether these developments continue for the younger generations.

Keywords: Generation; cohort; general population; life style; prospective study; time trends.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Netherlands
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sports*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult