• Which Athletes Have the Longest Life Expectancy?

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Which Athletes Have the Longest Life Expectancy?

Apr 06 2015

We know that regular exercise is good for our health, with experts advising that even 20 minutes of brisk walking per day can help us live longer. So it makes sense to presume that athletics will live even longer, right? But what type of athletics have the advantage?

Scientific Study into Sports and Life Longevity

A scientific study from Scandinavia in 1993 took 2,613 of Finland’s top male athletes and divided them into three different groups: power athletes, team sport athletes and endurance athletes. Power athletes compete in sports such as boxers, wrestlers and weight-lifters. Team athletes compete in sports such as soccer, basketball and ice hockey. Endurance athletes compete in sports such as marathons, long distance running and cross country skiing.

The researchers then compared these elite athletes to 1,712 ordinary Finnish men who were not competitive athletes. The results showed that on average:

  • Power athletes lived 1.6 years longer
  • Team athletes lived 4 years longer
  • Endurance athletes lived 5.7 years longer

Why do endurance athletes live longer?

A study published in 2001, by The American Medical Association, explored the maximum amount of oxygen a body can take in during exercise (VO2 max). Sports that require a high VO2 max, such as long distance running, make you work harder to get the oxygen into your lungs. Sports that do not require a high VO2 max, such as boxing, do not require you to work that hard to get the precious oxygen.

The study showed that compared to the non-athletes, the elite athletes had a much lower chance of dying at a given age, but the percentage of how much lower depended on VO2 max.

  • Endurance athletes had a 43% lower risk
  • Team athletes had 33% lower risk
  • Power athletes had a 10% lower risk

The study concluded that the harder your body has to work to get oxygen, the less chance you have of dying.

Other factors that count towards life longevity

There are factors that are not included in the two previous studies that have an impact on life longevity and athletes. The studies did not take into account what the elite athletes did after their sporting careers. There is evidence to suggest that moderate exercise throughout your life is better than a competitive sporting career that ends at a young age.

As well as the health benefits, team sports can teach discipline, sportsmanship and camaraderie, whilst mixing up your sporting routine can prevent boredom and allow you to meet new people. There are also sports that can help with certain problems associated with aging. Resistance training is incredibly good in preventing muscle wasting, and it also strengthens bones.  

It would seem that, as so often in life, moderation is the key. If you’re fascinated by all things sport, you might enjoy this story too: Why Are Left-Handed People Better at Sport?


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