Here's the abstract:
It is widely held among the general population and even among health professionals that moderate exercise is a healthy practice but long term high intensity exercise is not. The specific amount of physical activity necessary for good health remains unclear. To date, longevity studies of elite athletes have been relatively sparse and the results are somewhat conflicting. The Tour de France is among the most gruelling sport events in the world, during which highly trained professional cyclists undertake high intensity exercise for a full 3 weeks. Consequently we set out to determine the longevity of the participants in the Tour de France, compared with that of the general population. We studied the longevity of 834 cyclists from France (n=465), Italy (n=196) and Belgium (n=173) who rode the Tour de France between the years 1930 and 1964. Dates of birth and death of the cyclists were obtained on December 31 (st) 2007. We calculated the percentage of survivors for each age and compared them with the values for the pooled general population of France, Italy and Belgium for the appropriate age cohorts. We found a very significant increase in average longevity (17%) of the cyclists when compared with the general population. The age at which 50% of the general population died was 73.5 vs. 81.5 years in Tour de France participants. Our major finding is that repeated very intense exercise prolongs life span in well trained practitioners. Our findings underpin the importance of exercising without the fear that becoming exhausted might be bad for one's health.
Does this make the case for intense endurance exercise after all?
Or perhaps (smart) PED use?
Is anyone aware of similar data on marathoners' life expectancy?
asked byErik_Cisler (1160)
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on June 21, 2011
at 09:31 PM
Someone doesn't understand correlation does not equal causation. Both of these statements can be true given the study:
"Training and participating in long endurance sports like the Tour make people live longer"
"A person whose genetics is such that they live a long time also has the unique ability to train in a way that allows them to participate in the Tour"
on June 21, 2011
at 09:34 PM
If I'm reading that right, it sounds like the statistic is looking at a survival curve (i.e. a Kaplan-Meier curve), which cannot be directly translated to mean age at death. In other words, more cyclists could be dying at extreme ages (very young and very old).
And, of course, this is just more cohort data that is susceptible to confounding.
But regardless, thanks for posting this. The anti-cardio crowd on here tend to post anecdotes about all endurance athletes dying before reaching old age.
on July 14, 2011
at 02:54 AM
I get what they are trying to sample and I'm personally a huge road cycling fan, so this is of great interest to me. One thing to consider is that the age of the sample they used. If PEDs were used by any of the cyclists pooled, it was before the dawn of EPO and blood doping. Tommy Simpson died from a mixture of alcohol and amphetamines. While I don't have sources readily available, I know it has been said that doping in the TDF has been prevalent since it's inception back in 1903.
As for being a case for endurance cyclists, I think Wozza said it best that these guys are the freaks of nature. Only the top riders in the world are hand picked to ride the Tour, plus there are other factors to consider such as what the rest of their season is like (spring classics? other grand tours?). Each cyclist has a somewhat different training regime, particularly nowadays. They are the epitome of micromanaged to the core, from what they eat, when they sleep and yes, with some teams, if and when they can have sex. There seem to be trends with the super human athletes such as high VO2max, large hearts and a greater ability to suffer.
Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Miguel Indurain, Greg Lemond, et al., seem to be good examples of health. Yet we just lost Laurent Fignon to cancer. I believe that anyone who is willing to endure road cycling in this fashion is a unique individual period.
on July 13, 2011
at 06:42 PM
I looked briefly into the literature a few months ago. Marathoners in general live longer and have lower rates of most diseases, but they have higher rates of a few specific diseases.
I think it's a pretty easy comparison versus the general public, which is way too sedentary. Sitting all day is much, much more dangerous than marathoning. Any significant activity will extend lifespan.
on June 22, 2011
at 07:47 AM
Survivorship bias? As with any compeitive sport, the weak get filtered out, you get an elite who go on excel.
Perhaps they should also look at the broader picture. What about all those people who engage in cycling and died in RTA's, of heart attacks etc...
on June 21, 2011
at 09:37 PM
I think the burden is still to prove, not allude to, but scientifically prove, cause and effect. And I dont think there are enough specifics there to prove that the longevity is based on the extreme endurance based activities.
I know that with elit athletes of the TdF ilk, genetics play heavily into it. At theat level, you either are born with a high lactic acid threshold, Vo2max, max heart rate, etc or youre not. Having those genetics at the outset probably have a lot to do with it as well. Also, we are comparing athletes to the general population, or people that also lead a healthy, yet more moderate life? I think saying athletes live longer is a "well duh" kind of statement. But show me a study that shows endurance athletes vs moderately active folks and that might be something I'd be interested in reading.
on July 31, 2011
at 06:26 PM
Stop it. You can't compare the best to the rest. Pros and elites are different. Have you ever heard of a pro porn star dying while filming? No. But many of us normals die during sex. Ex VP Nelson Rockefeller to name one. I myself have felt as if I died many times...but I was always alone.
on July 14, 2011
at 01:29 AM
Smart PED use for sure. Remember the Davis Pfinney's and Lance Armstrong's Still alive but living with bad chronic diseases. So one has to add that in. that being said I think life can be enhanced with PED's and this abstract helps further that belief.
on July 13, 2011
at 06:27 PM
The data provided by the authors is not enough to reach the conclusion they assert. There are many correlated factors at play here which may confound the outcome, the most critical is the obvious unmeasured variables.
Also, it is not clear that the authors conducted any multivariate techniques that would help dissociate correlated factors.
Some examples: 1. Endurance athletes rarely smoke, and if they do it is very moderate. Does the lack of smoking explain much of the difference? I would bet that endurance athletes also moderate use of alcohol more closely as well. These are certainly causative factors. 2. Competitive cyclists do not only practice physical training, they also moderate diet closely and actively consume electrolytes to improve heart function. Their diet is unlike that of the general population and may be causative 3. Competitive cyclists likewise are rarely overweight, and in fact, maintain very low body fat and are generally lean (whether genetically or as a result of diet and training). Perhaps it is weight control generally which could be causative 4. Adverse selection is likely at play here as well. As others have mentioned, the genetic makeup that makes a good cyclist (lean body, flexible muscles, durable bone structure and tendons, strong heart, strong lungs, wide vascular pathways, fast metabolism of lactic acid, fast muscle repair etc.) are automatic contributors to long lifespan.
A correct test would be to look at pairs of identical twins (genetically identical) who differ dramatically in their participation in endurance activities, but who are similar in most other respects. This would begin to isolate the impact of physical activity, ceteris paribus.
The authors overreach, but the topic is ripe for further explanation and the finding itself is intriguing, just not definitive.
on June 22, 2011
at 06:18 AM
Eddy Merckx always had a ton of cheese, maybe it was all the K2 he ingested:) Cycling was my favorite sport to follow but i got too tired of doping etc. But atleast there is good testing, unlike in many other high dollar sports.