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Olympic medallists live longer

Olympic medallists live longer
January 2, 2013

Olympic medallists live longer than the general population, regardless of their country of origin, the medal won, or type of sport played.

The groundbreaking research from the University of Melbourne, released in the Christmas issue of the British Medical Journal (BMJ), found Olympic medallists live an average of 2.8 years longer than the general population.

The researchers compared life expectancy among 15,174 Olympic athletes who won medals between 1896 and 2010 with general population groups matched by country, age, sex, and year of birth.

All medallists lived an average of 2.8 years longer - a significant survival advantage over the general population in eight out of the nine countries studied. Australian athletes were included in this group of nine countries and had similar survival advantages to other countries.

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

Lead author Professor Philip Clarke of the School of Population Health said that their study was not designed to determine why Olympic athletes live longer, stating "there are many possible explanations including genetic factors, physical activity, healthy lifestyle, and the wealth and status that come from international sporting glory."

A second study in the latest BMJ examined the variations of increased life expectancy among different sports and found in most cases there was little difference.

The study, which compared athletes who trained at different physical intensities, found that those from high or moderate intensity sports have no added survival benefit over athletes from low intensity sports.

However, the data showed that 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.

An accompanying editorial added that everyone could enjoy the "survival advantage" of elite athletes by just meeting physical activity guidelines.

The editorial pointed 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.

However, the authors argue that, compared with the successes that have been achieved in tobacco control, "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."

The editorial continues "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."

For more information visit the BMJ Group website at http://bit.ly/SFUr9p


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