Background: Prevalence of cardiovascular (CV) risk factors has been poorly explored in subjects regularly engaged in high-intensity exercise programs. Our aim was, therefore, to assess the prevalence and distribution of CV risk factors in a large population of competitive athletes, to derive the characteristics of athlete's lifestyle associated with the best CV profile.
Methods: 1,058 Olympic athletes (656 males, 402 females), consecutively evaluated in the period 2014–6, represent the study population. Prevalence and distribution of major CV risk factors was assessed, in relation to age, body size and sport.
Results: Dyslipidemia was the most common risk (32%), followed by overweight (25%), positive family history (18%), smoking habit (8%), hypertension (3.8%), and hyperglycemia (0.3%). Large subset of athletes (418, 40%) had none or 1 (414, 39%) risk factors, while only a few (39, 3.7%) had 3/4 CV risk factors. The group without risks was largely comprised of endurance athletes (34%). Aging was associated with higher total and LDL cholesterol, triglycerides (p<0.001) and glycemia (p=0.002), and lower HDL cholesterol. On multivariate logistic regression analysis, age, BMI and body fat were identified as independent predictors of increased CV risk.
Conclusions: Dyslipidaemia and overweight are common in elite athletes (32% and 25% respectively). Only a minority (3%) presents a high CV risk, largely expression of unhealthy lifestyle. A large proportion (40%), of mostly endurance athletes, are totally free from risk factors. These athletes represent the reference model of “CV health” and the desirable target to manage abnormal risk profile in young/adult individuals.