Sports participation as an investment in (subjective) health: a time series analysis of the life course

Background The causal relationship between sports participation, as physical activity, and subjective health is examined accounting for the London 2012 Olympic Games, which it was hoped would ‘inspire a generation’ by contributing to public health. Improvements to weaknesses in the literature are offered. First, stronger causal claims about the relationship between sports participation and health and second, the actual minutes and intensity of different measures of participation are used. Methods The rolling monthly survey design of the annually reported Taking Part Survey (TPS) is used to create time series data. This is analysed using a time series modelling strategy. Results Increases in the level of subjective health requires accelerating sport participation, but no effect from the 2012 Olympics is revealed. Reductions in the level of health are brought about by increases in sports participation in early adulthood, although this gets reversed in middle age. However, a reduction in health re-emerges for older males compared with females. Conclusions For the population as a whole, sport can contribute to health, with diminishing impact, but impacts vary across the life course and genders. Policy accounting for these variations is necessary. Policy aspirations that London 2012 would produce health benefits from increased sports participation are misplaced.