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Olympic glory pays off in lifespan

U. MELBOURNE (AUS) — Olympic medalists live an average of 2.8 years longer than the general population, regardless of country of origin, color of medal won, or type of sport played, a new study shows.

Researchers compared life expectancy among 15,174 Olympic athletes who won medals between 1896 and 2010 with general population groups matched by country, age, sex, and year of birth.

All medalists lived an average of 2.8 years longer—a significant survival advantage over the general population in eight out of the nine countries studied. The findings appear in the British Medical Journal.

Gold, silver, and bronze medalists enjoyed roughly the same survival advantage, as did medalists in both endurance and mixed sports. Medalists in power sports such as gymnastics and tennis had a smaller, but still significant, advantage over the general population.

Lead author Professor Philip Clarke of the University of Melbourne says that the study was not designed to determine why Olympic athletes live longer. “There are many possible explanations including genetic factors, physical activity, healthy lifestyle, and the wealth and status that come from international sporting glory.”

“Perhaps the one thing those of us who do not make the Olympic team can do to increase our life expectancy is to undertake regular exercise. This has been shown to decrease the risk of big killers like Type 2 Diabetes.”

Source: University of Melbourne

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