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Fitter, healthier and stronger? Many factors influence elite athletes’ long-term health
  1. Urho M Kujala
  1. Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences, University of Jyväskylä, 40014 Jyväskylän, Finland
  1. Correspondence to Professor Urho M Kujala, Faculty of Sport and Health Sciences, University of Jyväskylä, 40014 Jyväskylän, Finland; urho.m.kujala{at}

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It is now incontrovertible that properly tailored exercise therapy increases physical fitness, reduces depression, lowers cardiometabolic risk factors, reduces pain and improves health-related quality of life in chronically ill patients. Former elite athletes usually exercise more than population controls during their later life. Participating in elite endurance-type sports—an indicator of exceptionally high aerobic fitness—is associated with low risk of premature death, at least before the use of doping became common.1 2

Why do elite athletes live longer than those less gifted at sport?

Athlete mortality statistics are often compared with data from the general population. Finnish male former elite athletes outlived matched controls who were healthy at the age of 20.1 In former endurance athletes, the risk of type 2 diabetes (OR adjusted for age, socioeconomic status, body mass index and smoking 0.24, 95% CI 0.07 to 0.81) and ischaemic heart disease (adjusted OR 0.33, 95% CI 0.18 to 0.61) were dramatically lower than in matched controls. These partly genetically determined1 3 health advantages, combined with a lower rate of smoking, …

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  • Contributors UMK wrote the editorial.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

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

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