(HealthDay News) – Olympic athletes have a small survival advantage, with no significant difference in the mortality risk based on the level of exercise intensity variation of each discipline, according to two studies published Dec. 13 in BMJ.

To examine whether Olympic medalists live longer than the general population, Phillip M. Clarke, PhD, from the University of Melbourne in Australia, and colleagues conducted a retrospective cohort study involving 15,174 former Olympic athletes from nine country groups who won medals from 1896–2010. The researchers found that, 30 years after winning, more medalists than matched controls were alive (relative conditional survival, 1.08). Compared with controls, medalists lived 2.8 years longer on average, with a significant survival advantage noted for medalists in eight of the nine country groups.

Ruben Zwiers, from the Leyden Academy on Vitality and Ageing in the Netherlands, and colleagues conducted a retrospective cohort study involving 9,889 Olympic athletes who competed from 1896–1936. The authors sought to examine the mortality risk related to 43 disciplines with varying levels of cardiovascular, static, and dynamic intensity exercise. They found that the hazard ratios for mortality were similar for athletes from disciplines with high, moderate, or low cardiovascular intensity, with similarly nonsignificant results seen for static and dynamic components in exercise. Increased mortality was seen for disciplines with a high risk of bodily collision and high levels of physical contact.

“Although the evidence points to a small survival effect of being an Olympian, careful reflection suggests that similar health benefits and longevity could be achieved by all of us through regular physical activity,” write the authors of an accompanying editorial.

Full Text – Clarke
Full Text – Zwiers