Olympian lifespan 'possible for all'
- 14 December 2012
- From the section Health
The longevity Olympians enjoy is within the reach of everyone, experts say.
Research published on the British Medical Journal (BMJ) website suggests athletes live 2.8 years longer on average than the average lifespan.
The research indicated those who took part in non-contact sports such as cycling, rowing and tennis enjoyed the longest life of all.
But the general population could have a similar "survival advantage" by doing a little more exercise, experts said.
The conclusion by two public health professors came after they reviewed two studies of Olympic athletes published by the BMJ website.
The studies looked at the lifespan and health of 25,000 athletes who competed in Games dating back to 1896.
Those taking part in contact sports such as boxing had the least advantage, while cyclists and rowers enjoyed the best health.
But the researchers also found those who played lower intensity sports such as golf enjoyed a boost.
'Public health failure'
Possible explanations put forward for the finding included genetic and lifestyle factors and the wealth and status that comes with sporting success.
However, the findings prompted public health experts Prof Adrian Bauman, from Australia's Sydney University, and Prof Steven Blair, from South Carolina University in the US, to suggest others could live as long as Olympic athletes.
The recommended level of physical activity for adults is 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise each week.
Studies suggest people who manage that amount or more live for up to several years longer than those that do not.
Writing for the BMJ website, the professors said: "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.
"We could and should all award ourselves that personal gold medal."
But they said governments were still not doing enough to promote the benefits of physical activity, calling it a "public health failure".