There is a great understanding of an athlete’s competitive career, but what are their post-career outcomes? Research has shown that sports participation has a positive health impact on individuals but can participate in sports at an elite level increase longevity? This article explores the impact of longevity on high-performance elite-level athletes.
Elite athletes and longevity
A study examining all-cause mortality in former athletes, specifically cardiovascular and cancer-specific mortality, shows that elite athletes live longer than the general population. Although male athletes have a lower incidence of cardiovascular disease and cancer. However, power sports athletes’ all-cause and cardiovascular disease mortality rates were not much different from the general population.
Furthermore, endurance athletes’ cancer mortality was not significantly different from the general population. No differences were seen in nervous system disorders and mental illnesses between elite athletes and the general population.
Additional studies examining professional athletes in the United States showed that elite athletes live longer than the general population. A study that examined U.S. Olympians found that female and male U.S. Olympic athletes live five years longer than the general population. This study concluded that these athletes had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, which directly impacted their increased longevity.
Limitations were seen in many of the studies on longevity in elite athletes. While there is a comprehensive understanding of an athlete’s health and performance while they are participating in a sport, there is limited data on their post-career outcomes.
Thus, further research is needed to look at the mechanisms that may affect mortality risk to gain a better understanding of both elite and non-elite populations. The current studies show that participation in an elite sport generally leads to increased longevity.
- Sports Med Open. Do Elite Athlete Live Longer? A Systematic Review of Mortality and Longevity in Elite Athletes.
- Sports Medicine. Health Consequences of an Elite Sporting Career: Long-Term Detriment or Long-Term Gain? A Meta-Analysis of 165,00 Former Athletes.
- British Journal of Sports Medicine. Female and male US Olympic athletes live 5 years longer than their general counterparts: a study of 8124 former US Olympians.
- German Journal of Exercise and Sport Research. Defining “elite” status in sport: from chaos to clarity.
- Houston Methodist. Medical Conditions in Athletes.