PURPOSE: For physical activity to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, it must be sustained throughout life. We sought to determine the relation between the ability of young adults in different sports and their continued physical activity in midlife, and subsequent cardiovascular disease. SUBJECTS AND METHODS: Baseline self-reported ability in tennis, golf, football, baseball, and basketball was assessed in a cohort study involving 1019 male medical students (median age, 22 years). Physical activity and sports participation were assessed 22 years later. The incidence of cardiovascular disease was assessed during a median follow-up of 40 years, using annual questionnaires, medical records, and death certificates. RESULTS: Subjects with high ability in tennis as young adults had the highest participation in the sport in midlife (median age, 48 years). In the midlife questionnaire administered in 1978, 33% reported playing tennis within the past week and 51% within the past year. Tennis was the only sport in which a higher ability during medical school was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. After adjustment for father's occupation, parental incidence of cardiovascular disease, serum cholesterol level, cigarette smoking, body mass index, and hypertension during follow-up, the relative hazard of developing cardiovascular disease was 0.56 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.35 to 0.89) in the high-ability group and 0.67 (95% CI: 0.47 to 0.96) in the low-ability group, compared with the no-ability group. CONCLUSION: Our results support the association between sustained activity in aerobic sports and a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Sustainability of activity should be considered when developing physical education programs for young adults.
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