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The effects of adolescence sports and exercise on adulthood leisure-time physical activity in educational groups

Tomi E Mäkinen1*, Katja Borodulin1, Tuija H Tammelin23, Ossi Rahkonen4, Tiina Laatikainen1 and Ritva Prättälä1

Author Affiliations

1 National Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), Helsinki, Finland

2 Finnish Institute of Occupational Health, Oulu, Finland

3 LIKES Research Center, Jyväskylä, Finland

4 University of Helsinki, Department of Public Health, Helsinki, Finland

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International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 2010, 7:27  doi:10.1186/1479-5868-7-27

Published: 12 April 2010



Physical inactivity has become a major public health problem and clear educational differences in physical activity have been reported across Europe and USA. The origins of adulthood physical activity are suggested to be in childhood and adolescence physical activity. Hardly any studies have, however, examined if the educational differences in physical activity might also be due to educational differences in early experiences in physical activity. Thus, our aim was to examine how competitive sports in youth, and exercise in late adolescence, and opinions on physical education (PE) in childhood determined adulthood leisure-time physical activity (LTPA) in different educational groups.


We used cross-sectional population-based National FINRISK 2002 data for 1918 men and 2490 women aged 25 to 64 years. Competitive sports in youth, exercise in late adolescence, and opinions on PE in childhood were assessed retrospectively via self-reports. Adulthood LTPA was collected with 12-month recall. In 2008, we calculated structural equation models including latent variables among the low- (<12 years) and high- (≥12 years) educated.


Men more often than women reported that their experience of PE was interesting and pleasant as well as having learned useful skills during PE classes. Men, compared to women, had also been more active in the three selected competitive sports in youth and exercised in late adolescence. Participation in competitive sports in youth among the low-educated and exercise in late adolescence among the high-educated had a direct effect on adulthood LTPA. Among the low-educated, opinions on PE in childhood had an indirect effect on adulthood LTPA through participation in competitive sports in youth whereas among the high-educated, the indirect effect went through exercise in late adolescence. The effects were mainly similar between genders.


Our study answers to a strong need to assess the determinants of leisure-time physical activity to promote physical activity in low-educated individuals. The pathways of physical activity from childhood to adulthood LTPA may be different depending on the pursued educational career. Further prospective studies are needed to confirm our results.