-- Robert Preidt
FRIDAY, Dec. 14 (HealthDay News) -- Olympic medal winners live
longer than people in the general population, but athletes who do
high- or moderate-intensity sports have no survival advantage over
those who do low-intensity activities such as golf, according to
two new studies.
In one study, researchers looked at more than 15,000 athletes
who won medals at the Olympics between 1896 and 2010 and found that
they lived an average of 2.8 years longer than people in the
This survival advantage was similar among athletes who won
either gold, silver or bronze medals and among those who won medals
in endurance and mixed sports. Athletes who won medals in "power"
sports had a smaller, but still significant, survival advantage
over people in the general population.
The study was not designed to determine why Olympic medal
winners live longer, but "possible explanations include genetic
factors, physical activity, healthy lifestyle, and the wealth and
status that come from international sporting glory," wrote Philip
Clarke, of the Melbourne School of Population Health at the
University of Melbourne in Australia, and colleagues.
In the other study, also published online Dec. 13 in the
BMJ, researchers compared death rates and different levels
of sports intensity among nearly 10,000 athletes who took part in
the Olympics between 1896 and 1936. They found that athletes in
sports with high cardiovascular intensity (such as cycling and
rowing) or moderate intensity (such as gymnastics and tennis) had
death rates similar to those in low-intensity sports such as golf
They also found that athletes in sports with high levels of
physical contact -- such as boxing, rugby and ice hockey -- had an
11 percent higher risk of death than other athletes.
This increased risk of death reflects the effects of repeated
collisions and injuries over time, Frouke Engelaer, of the Leyden
Academy on Vitality and Aging in the Netherlands, and colleagues
said in a journal news release.
Everyone could enjoy the "survival advantage" of elite athletes
by just meeting physical activity guidelines, according to an
accompanying editorial by Professor Adrian Bauman, of the School of
Public Health at Sydney University in Australia, and a
They wrote that people who do at least 150 minutes a week of
moderate to vigorous exercise could live one to several years
longer than inactive people.
"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," they concluded. "We could and should all award ourselves that personal gold medal."
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute offers a
guide to physical activity.
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