An elite athlete.
Shortly after writing my previous post, suggesting Tour de France riders live longer than normal people, I came across another study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. It was entitled “Mortality and health-related habits in 900 Finnish former elite athletes and their brothers”. The link is here.
They looked at male Finnish elite athletes who represented Finland between 1920 and 1965 and their age-matched brothers (not identical twin brothers necessarily). Fortunately having brothers seems common in Finland where it is often dark and cold.
They followed them from the start of their career up to 31st December 2015. 1296 of the 1800 died during the study period. The median age at death was as follows:
Elite athletes smoked less and were more physically active in general. We don’t know why elite athletes live longer, but their overall lifestyle, which includes exercise, seems to be protective.
This is an observational study, and not an experiment. It remains possible that the difference in smoking rates or some other lifestyle factors made the difference, and the excess exercise narrowed the gap – the study does not exclude the possibility that exercise is harmful in excess. It also doesn’t tell you that endurance sports make you live longer than power sports – just that those that tended to do endurance sports came from families that tended to live longer.
But I’m still doing some triathlons this year. And I will still be advising my patients to exercise. I’ll dig out the paper, hopefully, and see if there are any more details buried within it that are important.