Playing high school sports associated with better health and fitness in old age

If you played high-school sports, your future self may thank you.

A new study shows that playing sports in high school is a predictor of whether a man in his 70s will be fit and healthy.

The study, published in the journal BMC Public Health, shows that elderly men needed to visit their doctors fewer times a year if they played high school sports. Plus, men who played high school sports were more likely to exercise 50 years later than those who didn’t play high school sports.

The study included 712 World War II veterans, who were physically fit as young men (this was determined by their passing of a difficult physical exam for military screening during the 1940s). Researchers from Cornell University and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, followed up with these men 50 years later, at an average age of 78.

While the researchers did not find that personality traits (such as being dominant) nor environment (such as town size) strongly predicted physical activity in elderly age, playing varsity sports in high school did strongly predict being physically fit and having to make fewer doctor visits 50 years later in life. (Though researchers noted that one personality trait – being adventurous – was associated with statistical significance to being physically active in old age.)

The findings add weight to the importance of maintaining “high school athletic programs, even in an era of shrinking school budgets,” researchers wrote in the study. “It has been noted that physical education classes may be the only opportunity for many adolescents to engage in weekly physical activity. School-based organized sports should be preserved because they contribute to later physical activity levels and decrease the risk factors for early morbidity.”

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