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All-cause and disease-specific mortality among male, former elite athletes: an average 50-year follow-up
  1. Jyrki A Kettunen1,
  2. Urho M Kujala2,
  3. Jaakko Kaprio3,4,5,
  4. Heli Bäckmand6,
  5. Markku Peltonen7,
  6. Johan G Eriksson8,9,10,11,
  7. Seppo Sarna12
  1. 1Arcada University of Applied Sciences, Helsinki, Finland
  2. 2Department of Health Sciences, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland
  3. 3Department of Public Health, University of Helsinki, Hjelt Institute, Helsinki, Finland
  4. 4Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, National Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki, Finland
  5. 5University of Helsinki, Institute for Molecular Medicine (FIMM), Helsinki, Finland
  6. 6Health and Social Welfare Department, City of Vantaa, Finland
  7. 7Department of Chronic Disease Prevention, National Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki, Finland
  8. 8Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
  9. 9Vasa Central Hospital, Vasa, Finland
  10. 10Folkhälsan Research Centre, Helsinki, Finland
  11. 11Unit of General Practice, Helsinki University Central Hospital, Helsinki, Finland
  12. 12Department of Public Health, University of Helsinki, Hjelt Institute, Helsinki, Finland
  1. Correspondence to Jyrki A Kettunen, Arcada University of Applied Sciences, Helsinki, Jan-Magnus Janssonin aukio 1, Helsinki FI-00550, Finland; jyrki.kettunen{at}


Aim To investigate life expectancy and mortality among former elite athletes and controls.

Methods HR analysis of cause-specific deaths sourced from the national death registry for former Finnish male endurance, team and power sports athletes (N=2363) and controls (N=1657). The median follow-up time was 50 years.

Results Median life expectancy was higher in the endurance (79.1 years, 95% CI 76.6 to 80.6) and team (78.8, 78.1 to 79.8) sports athletes than in controls (72.9, 71.8 to 74.3). Compared to controls, risk for total mortality adjusted for socioeconomic status and birth cohort was lower in the endurance ((HR 0.70, 95% CI 0.61 to 0.79)) and team (0.80, 0.72 to 0.89) sports athletes, and slightly lower in the power sports athletes (0.93, 0.85 to 1.03). HR for ischaemic heart disease mortality was lower in the endurance (0.68, 0.54 to 0.86) and team sports (0.73, 0.60 to 0.89) athletes. HR for stroke mortality was 0.52 (0.33 to 0.83) in the endurance and 0.59 (0.40 to 0.88) in the team sports athletes. Compared to controls, the risk for smoking-related cancer mortality was lower in the endurance (HR 0.20, 0.08 to 0.47) and power sports (0.40, 0.25 to 0.66) athletes. For dementia mortality, the power sports athletes, particularly boxers, had increased risk (HR 4.20, 2.30 to 7.81).

Conclusions Elite athletes have 5–6 years additional life expectancy when compared to men who were healthy as young adults. Lower mortality for cardiovascular disease was in part due to lower rates of smoking, as tobacco-related cancer mortality was especially low.

  • Epidemiology
  • Athletics
  • Cardiovascular epidemiology
  • Elite performance

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