More Data on the Longevity of Elite Athletes

Athletes at the top of their fields tend to live longer than the general population. The reasons for this are yet to be determined: for the most part human historical data can only show association, not causation. So it may be that more exercise is beneficial, or it may be that only the most robust people, who were going to live longer anyway, tend reach the heights of professional athletics, or it may be that the wealth, community, and access to medicine that comes with being a successful professional athlete are the critical influences:

To determine whether Olympic medallists live longer than the general population, we carried out a retrospective cohort study, with passive follow-up and conditional survival analysis to account for unidentified loss to follow-up. The study group consisted of 15,174 Olympic athletes from nine country groups (United States, Germany, Nordic countries, Russia, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Canada, and Australia and New Zealand) who won medals in the Olympic Games held in 1896-2010. Medallists were compared with matched cohorts in the general population (by country, age, sex, and year of birth).

More medallists than matched controls in the general population were alive 30 years after winning (relative conditional survival 1.08). Medallists lived an average of 2.8 years longer than controls. Medallists in eight of the nine country groups had a significant survival advantage compared with controls. Gold, silver, and bronze medallists each enjoyed similar sized survival advantages. Medallists in endurance sports and mixed sports had a larger survival advantage over controls at 30 years (1.13) than that of medallists in power sports (1.05). We conclude that Olympic medallists live longer than the general population, irrespective of country, medal, or sport. This study was not designed to explain this effect, but possible explanations include genetic factors, physical activity, healthy lifestyle, and the wealth and status that come with international sporting glory.



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