Intended for healthcare professionals

Editorials Christmas 2012: Editorial

Everyone could enjoy the “survival advantage” of elite athletes

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 13 December 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e8338
  1. Adrian E Bauman, professor1,
  2. Steven N Blair, professor2
  1. 1School of Public Health, Sydney University, 2006 NSW, Australia
  2. 2Arnold School of Public Health, University of South Carolina, USA
  1. adrian.bauman{at}

Just by meeting physical activity guidelines

Two linked papers examine longevity in former Olympic athletes and reach different conclusions.1 2 Clark and colleagues (doi:10.1136/bmj.e8308) analysed data on 15 174 Olympic medallists from nine countries that have enjoyed success in Olympic Games. The athletes had participated in at least one Olympic Games between 1896 and 2010.1 The study found that Olympic medallists had a relative survival advantage of 8% compared with matched controls, which translates into 2.8 extra years of life. The second and smaller study by Zwiers and colleagues (doi:10.1136/bmj.e7456) examined data on 9989 people who competed in Olympic Games between 1896 and 1936.2 They reported no increase in survival among those who competed in aerobic sports and higher mortality in those who participated in collision and contact sports, including power sports. Indeed, mixed epidemiological evidence pervades this literature, with many studies identifying a lower risk of mortality in previously elite athletes, especially those competing in aerobic events.3 By contrast, those who compete in power events tend to show less evidence of a survival advantage.3 What drives …

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