Long-Term Function, Body Composition and Cardiometabolic Health in Midlife Former Athletes: A Scoping Review

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BMJ Publishing Group

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BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine

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DOI: 10.1136/bmjsem-2023-001605


While sports medicine has traditionally focused on recovering from injury and returning athletes to sport safely after injury, there is a growing interest in the long-term health of athletes. The purpose of this scoping review was to (1) summarise the literature (methodologies and findings) on physical function, body composition and cardiometabolic health in midlife (age 40–65 years) former competitive athletes compared with non-athlete controls, (2) identify areas for future study in long-term health in athletes and (3) determine outcomes that could be evaluated in a future systematic review(s). We searched PubMed, CINAHL, Web of Science and SPORTDiscus for studies published between 2000 and 2022 evaluating former athletes and controls on physical function, body composition and/or cardiometabolic measures using MeSH terms. We identified 20 articles that met our criteria. Outcomes varied considerably across studies, most of which were cross-sectional and evaluated only males. Limited data suggest that former endurance athletes have leaner body compositions, higher aerobic capacity and better cardiometabolic indicators than controls; former athletes who maintain higher physical activity (ie, self-reported exercise) are healthier than those who do not; and former team sport athletes, who have higher injury prevalence, may have poorer functional performance than controls who were recreationally active in college. Studies rarely evaluated functional performance, did not control for prior injury or diet and seldom assessed current physical activity levels. Future research should include females and evaluate sex differences, control for prior sports-related injury(ies), quantify physical activity, use standardised outcome measures including performance-based functional assessments and incorporate longitudinal designs.


BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, Vol. 9, No. 4 (2023). DOI.