Olympians live longer than general population... But cyclists no survival advantage over golfers

December 13, 2012, British Medical Journal

Olympic medallists live longer than the general population, regardless of country of origin, medal won, or type of sport played, finds a study in the Christmas issue published on BMJ today.

A second study comparing athletes who trained at different physical intensities, found that those from high or sports have no added over athletes from low intensity sports. But those who engage in disciplines with high levels of physical contact, such as boxing, rugby and ice hockey, are at an increased risk of death in later life, the data show.

An accompanying editorial adds that everyone could enjoy the "" of by just meeting physical activity guidelines.

In the first study, researchers compared life expectancy among 15,174 Olympic athletes who won medals between 1896 and 2010 with general matched by country, sex, and age.

All medallists lived an average of 2.8 years longer – a significant survival advantage over the general population in eight out of the nine country groups studied.

Gold, silver and bronze medallists enjoyed roughly the same survival advantage, as did medallists in both endurance and mixed sports. Medallists in power sports had a smaller, but still significant, advantage over the general population.

The authors say that, although their study was not designed to determine why Olympic athletes live longer, "possible explanations include genetic factors, physical activity, , and the wealth and status that come from international sporting glory."

In the second study, researchers measured the effect of high on mortality later in life among former .

They tracked 9,889 athletes with a known age at death, who took part in at least one between 1896 and 1936. Together they represented 43 disciplines requiring different levels of exercise intensity and physical contact.

After adjusting for sex, year of birth and nationality, they found that athletes from sports with high cardiovascular intensity (such as cycling and rowing) or moderate cardiovascular intensity (such as gymnastics and tennis) had similar mortality rates compared with athletes from low cardiovascular intensity sports, such as golf or cricket.

However, the researchers did find an 11% increased risk of mortality among athletes from disciplines with a high risk of body collision and with high levels of physical contact, such as boxing, rugby and ice hockey, compared with other athletes. They suggest this reflects the impact of repeated collisions and injuries over time.

In an accompanying editorial, two public health experts point out that people who do at least 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity also have a survival advantage compared with the inactive general population. Estimates range from just under a year to several years.

But they argue that, compared with the successes that have been achieved in tobacco control, "our inability to improve physical activity is a public health failure, and it is not yet taken seriously enough by many in government and in the medical establishment."

"Although the evidence points to a small survival effect of being an Olympian, careful reflection suggests that similar health benefits and longevity could be achieved by all of us through regular physical activity. We could and should all award ourselves that personal gold medal," they conclude.

Explore further: Asthma is the most common chronic disease among Olympic athletes

Related Stories

Asthma is the most common chronic disease among Olympic athletes

July 31, 2012
Based on data from the last five Olympic games, a study by the University of Western Australia has identified those athletes with asthma and airway hyper-responsiveness. With a prevalence of around 8% they are the most common ...

Higher pain tolerance in athletes may hold clues for pain management

May 17, 2012
Stories of athletes bravely "playing through the pain" are relatively common and support the widespread belief that they experience pain differently than non-athletes. Yet, the scientific data on pain perception in athletes ...

Study finds head impacts in contact sports may reduce learning in college athletes

May 16, 2012
A new study suggests that head impacts experienced during contact sports such as football and hockey may worsen some college athletes' ability to acquire new information. The research is published in the May 16, 2012, online ...

Former football players prone to late-life health problems, study finds

November 9, 2011
Football players experience repeated head trauma throughout their careers, which results in short and long-term effects to their cognitive function, physical and mental health. University of Missouri researchers are investigating ...

Painful legacy of teen sports

July 19, 2011
Vigorous sports activities, like basketball, during childhood and adolescence can cause abnormal development of the femur in young athletes, resulting in a deformed hip with reduced rotation and pain during movement. This ...

Many athletes with asthma may be using the wrong treatment

April 24, 2012
Many athletes with asthma may not be using the best treatment for their condition and could be putting their long term health at risk, according to a roundup by journalist Sophie Arie published by the BMJ today.

Recommended for you

Marijuana use does not lower chances of getting pregnant

January 22, 2018
Marijuana use—by either men or women—does not appear to lower a couple's chances of getting pregnant, according to a new study led by Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) researchers.

Americans are getting more sleep

January 19, 2018
Although more than one in three Americans still don't get enough sleep, a new analysis shows first signs of success in the fight for more shut eye. According to data from 181,335 respondents aged 15 and older who participated ...

Wine is good for you—to a point

January 18, 2018
The Mediterranean diet has become synonymous with healthy eating, but there's one thing in it that stands out: It's cool to drink wine.

Sleep better, lose weight?

January 17, 2018
(HealthDay)—Sleeplessness could cost you when it's time to stand on your bathroom scale, a new British study suggests.

Who uses phone apps to track sleep habits? Mostly the healthy and wealthy in US

January 16, 2018
The profile of most Americans who use popular mobile phone apps that track sleep habits is that they are relatively affluent, claim to eat well, and say they are in good health, even if some of them tend to smoke.

Improvements in mortality rates are slowed by rise in obesity in the United States

January 15, 2018
With countless medical advances and efforts to curb smoking, one might expect that life expectancy in the United States would improve. Yet according to recent studies, there's been a reduction in the rate of improvement in ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Dec 13, 2012
Don't forget to subtract off all the time they spend exercising. 2.8 extra years of exhausting physical exertion, yes that sounds like fun...
1 / 5 (1) Dec 14, 2012
Exercise kills senescent cells which accumulate in the body. Physical activity is taxing on the body, as a coping mechanism to the physical stress the body destroys the cells which serve no purpose. This brings down the ratio of functional mass to total mass. Your body keeps the healthy strong functional cells and gets rid of everything else it doesn't need.

Many studies also show that exercise is an effective cancer therapy, some studies even claim exercise to be a superior therapy to radiative and chemical therapies as the exercise strengthens the functional cells and targets the mutated regions while the chemical and radiative therapies affect all cells (both cancerous and non).

Bottom line, exercise not only keeps us healthy but is also an effective therapeutic tool at times when our health is not optimal.
1 / 5 (1) Dec 14, 2012
The key is to not push past boundaries. Exercise is good for longevity when applied conservatively. Rowing and cycling at competitive levels are known to damage heart tissue which leads to scarring which inhibits proper function. If exercising for health reasons you should stay as close to the limits as possible while taking care not to cause trauma. Do not push the body past the breaking point or you're doing more bad than good. The key, as with everything, is moderation. Don't do so little that you don't get the full benefits, and don't do so much that you damage yourself in the process.
not rated yet Dec 16, 2012
Rowing and cycling at competitive levels are known to damage heart tissue which leads to scarring which inhibits proper function.

In as much as such claimed damage reduces lifetime, the article doesn't support this contention at all. Perhaps you could cite something?
1 / 5 (1) Dec 16, 2012

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.