The study aims to fill the evidence gap for the relationship between specific sport disciplines and long-term health effects. It examines the associations of six different types of sport/exercise (running, cycling, swimming, aerobics, racquet sports and football) with cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality risk.
The study had 80,306 adult participants pooled from a Scottish and English population-based cohort. 54% of participants were female and the mean age was 52 with a standard deviation of 14 years. Sampling was based on a multi-stage, stratified probability design aimed at a nationally representative sample. Physical activity was assessed using an established questionnaire inquiring about frequency and duration of PA participation in the four weeks prior to interview. Prompt cards were employed for the six different sport disciplines; for each positive response participants were asked to specify frequency, duration, and perceived relative intensity. Primary causes of death were diagnosed according to the International Classification of Diseases.
A significant reduction in CVD mortality was found for participation in swimming, racquet sports, and aerobics but not in cycling, running and football. A significant reduction in ALL-CAUSE mortality was found for participation in cycling, swimming, racquet sports and aerobics but not in football and running.
Swimming, racquet sports, and aerobics were shown to be the most effective in reducing the risk of CVD mortality. The non-significant associations in football are unexpected as it is typically associated with aerobic fitness and cardiovascular function. Strengths of the study include its large population representative sample, but limitations include weaker statistical power due to the small number of CVD deaths amongst all sport/exercise participants. Either way, the robust association between certain physical activities and reduced CVD mortality provides further evidence for policy makers about the health benefits of sport and physical activity. Specific sport organisations may also be interested in this study, especially those seeking to promote swimming, racquet sports and aerobics.