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BACKGROUND: Sport participation has many physical and psychosocial benefits, but there is also an inherent risk of injury, subsequent osteoarthritis and psychological challenges that can negatively impact quality of life (QOL). Considering the multifaceted impacts of sport participation on QOL across the lifespan, there is a need to consolidate and present the evidence on QOL in former sport participants. OBJECTIVE: To evaluate QOL and life satisfaction in former sport participants, and determine what factors are associated with QOL and life satisfaction in this population. METHODS: Eight electronic databases were systematically searched in July 2018 to retrieve all articles that evaluated QOL or life satisfaction in former sport participants. Two authors independently screened titles/abstracts and full texts, extracted data, and appraised methodological quality using a modified Downs and Black Checklist. Random-effects meta-analysis estimated pooled mean and 95% confidence intervals (Cis) for Mental Component Scores (MCS) and Physical Component Scores (PCS) derived from the SF-12, SF-36, VR-12 and VR-36 measures. MCS and PCS were pooled for all former sport participants, as well as professional- and collegiate-athlete subgroups. Data that were inappropriate for meta-analysis (i.e. EQ-5D, PROMIS and life-satisfaction outcomes) were collated and reported descriptively. RESULTS: Seventeen articles evaluated QOL or life satisfaction in a total of 6692 former athletes [eight studies (n = 4255) former professional athletes; six studies (n = 1946) former collegiate athletes; two studies (n = 491) included both] with a mean age ranging from 21 to 66 years. Most studies were cross-sectional (15 of 17 articles) and 12 studies had a moderate risk of bias (n = 1 high-risk, n = 4 low-risk). Unpublished data were provided for five studies. Meta-analysis of seven studies resulted in a pooled PCS mean (95% CI) of 50.0 (46.6-53.3) [former professional athletes from two studies: 46.7 (42.1-51.2), former collegiate athletes from five studies: 51.2 (48.4-53.9)] and a pooled MCS of 51.4 (50.5-52.2) [former professional athletes: 52.7 (51.3-54.2), former collegiate athletes: 50.9 (50.0-51.8)]. Factors associated with worse QOL or life satisfaction in former athletes included involuntary retirement from sport (three studies), collision/high-contact sport compared with low/no-contact sport (three studies), three or more concussions compared with no/fewer concussions (two studies), increased body mass index (BMI) (worse PCS, three studies), and osteoarthritis or musculoskeletal issues (worse PCS and MCS, three studies; worse PCS but not MCS, two studies). CONCLUSIONS: Former athletes had similar PCS and better MCS, compared to general-population norms. Former athletes with impaired PCS reported better MCS than population norms, highlighting the need to use an instrument that differentiates between physical and mental components of QOL in former sport participants. Factors associated with worse QOL that may explain between-study variation include involuntary retirement, collision/high contact sports, concussion, BMI and osteoarthritis. PROSPERO: CRD42018104319.

Original publication




Journal article


Sports med

Publication Date





1723 - 1738


Athletes, Humans, Personal Satisfaction, Quality of Life, Sports