Early Life Athletic Data Predicts Late Life Mortality

Early aging, in the 20s through 40s in our species, is poorly studied. This is likely because aging causes few serious problems and minimal mortality in this age range. Nonetheless, a 35 year old is not the same as a 25 year old, and visibly so in many cases. The same processes of damage accumulation that cause the dramatic mortality of late life are at work, slowly, in early life, but which of them are more significant, and how do they interact to produce the observed, often subtle changes of early aging? Studies such as the one here remind us that this early aging does exist, and that it sets the foundation for the accelerated process of late life aging that is to come.

Athleticism and the mortality rates begin a lifelong trajectory of decline during early adulthood. Because of the substantial follow-up time required, however, observing any longitudinal link between early-life physical declines and late-life mortality and aging remains largely inaccessible. Here, we use longitudinal data on elite athletes to reveal how early-life athletic performance predicts late-life mortality and aging in healthy male populations.

Using data on over 10,000 baseball and basketball players, we calculate age at peak athleticism and rates of decline in athletic performance to predict late-life mortality patterns. Predictive capacity of these variables persists for decades after retirement, displays large effect sizes, and is independent of birth month, cohort, body mass index, and height. Furthermore, a nonparametric cohort-matching approach suggests that these mortality rate differences are associated with differential aging rates, not just extrinsic mortality. These results highlight the capacity of athletic data to predict late-life mortality, even across periods of substantial social and medical change.

Link: https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.adf1294


An encouraging thesis, perhaps overly ambitious; but poorly executed paper. Compelling and/or definable results near paper beginning?

I am inclined to believe that early athleticism necessarily leads to increased robustness in many systems, early/ increased activation of many mechanisms associated with exercise that reduce the quantity and/or rate of early damage and dysfunction, and -importantly- an increased tolerance and fit for continuing the various types of exercise going forward after/during late athleticism. It may be the case that early athleticism may be enough to slow or prolong the resilience of the damage from an average (though not necessarily healthy) lifestyle in respects to aging (definable body change over time) - this is not clear. My interest is in the idea that early athleticism leads to ongoing 'effective' exercise, which leads to a lifestyle and body type that is thereby conditioned to maximize the effects of exercise until the risks of fitness (over-exertion, poor resistance management, lost flexibility, unacceptable fall) outweigh the benefits. The point: the potential 'rate' of repair/ revitalization from exercise as it varies from early athlete to late-stage, necessarily increases the overall quantity of lifetime 'repair' available to the body, thereby extending healthy life span (simplistically like 'hit points' in a video game - accumulate them early and often and use them towards the end (mostly)).

Posted by: Jer at June 3rd, 2023 8:21 AM
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