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Mortality and health-related habits in 900 Finnish former elite athletes and their brothers
  1. Titta Katariina Kontro1,
  2. Seppo Sarna2,
  3. Jaakko Kaprio2,3,
  4. Urho M Kujala1
  1. 1 Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences, University of Jyväskylä, Jyväskylä, Finland
  2. 2 Department of Public Health, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
  3. 3 Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland (FIMM), University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
  1. Correspondence to Titta Katariina Kontro, Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences, University of Jyväskylä, 40014 Jyväskylä, Finland; titta.k.kontro{at}


Background There is conflicting evidence on the associations between participation in vigorous sports, health habits, familial factors and subsequent mortality. We investigated all-cause mortality and health-related behaviour among former elite athletes and their brothers.

Methods The mortality of Finnish male former elite athletes, who had represented Finland between 1920 and 1965 (n=900) and their age-matched brothers (n=900), was followed from the time when athlete started an elite athlete career until 31 December 2015. The age-adjusted HRs were calculated by a paired Cox proportional hazards model. In 2001, surviving participants (n=199 athletes and n=199 age-matched brothers) reported their self-rated health (SRH), physical activity, alcohol consumption and smoking habits in the questionnaire.

Results During the total follow-up period, 1296 deaths (72% of the cohort) occurred. The age-adjusted HRs for all-cause mortality in former athletes was 0.75 (95% CI 0.65 to 0.87, P<0.001) compared with their age-matched brothers. Median age at death was 79.9 years for endurance, 75.9 years for mixed sports and 72.2 years for power sports athletes, and 77.5, 73.7 and 72.2 years for their age-matched brothers, respectively. In 2001, compared with their brothers, former athletes smoked less (P<0.001), were more physically active (P<0.05) and rated their health more often as very good (P<0.05).

Conclusions Former elite athletes are more physically active, smoke less, have better self-rated health and live longer than their brothers. Genetic differences between athletes and brothers, aerobic training for endurance elite sports and a healthier lifestyle may all contribute to reduced mortality.

  • athlete
  • cohort study
  • health

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  • Contributors SS, JK and UMK collected the data. TKK and UMK analysed the data. TKK as the first author drafted the manuscript. All authors contributed to study design and the revision of the manuscript and accepted the final version.

  • Funding This study was funded by departmental funds of the University of Helsinki and University of Jyväskylä. JK was supported by the Academy of Finland (grant nos 265240 and 263278).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Obtained.

  • Ethics approval This study was conducted according to good clinical and scientific practice and the Declaration of Helsinki. Approval for register data collection was given by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health in Finland, and Statistics Finland.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement The former athletes are well-known persons in Finnish society; hence, the data cannot be openly shared. Researchers are encouraged to contact the authors and we will make every effort to accommodate additional analyses.

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