Most medal-winning athletes returning home from the Olympic Games can look forward to a longer life than most of us. A new study has found that Olympic medalists live an average of 2.8 years longer than everyone else, whether they’re gymnasts, golfers, runners, or athletes in any other event.
The scientists published their findings in two studies in the journal BMJ¹ ². The first study used data on 15,174 male and female athletes who won medals in the Olympic Games since 1896. It found that 30 years after any given Olympics, 8% more medalists were alive than others from their country and birth year¹. The effect wasn’t just seen in Olympic athletes who participated in high-endurance and high-intensity events. Researchers found no difference in mortality between cyclists, rowers, tennis stars and cricket players².
If the sport had high levels of physical contact and collisions, this could impact the mortality risk of the Olympians. Olympians in sports with higher bodily collisions, like boxing, had an 11% higher mortality risk than those in sports with minimal collisions. The researchers hypothesize that medalists live longer because of their intensive training, exercise levels that last long throughout life, or because their success leads to increased wealth or education levels. More research is needed to determine the exact reasons of what influences their mortality.
- Clarke, P. M., et al., BMJ 2012;345:e8308 doi:10.1136/bmj.e8308
- Zwiers, R., et al., BMJ 2012;345:e7456 doi: 10.1136/bmj.e7456