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Female and male US Olympic athletes live 5 years longer than their general population counterparts: a study of 8124 former US Olympians
  1. Juliana Antero1,
  2. Hirofumi Tanaka2,
  3. Quentin De Larochelambert1,
  4. Maja Pohar-Perme3,
  5. Jean-François Toussaint1,4
  1. 1 Institute for Research in Medicine and Epidemiology of Sports (IRMES, EA7329), INSEP, Paris, Île-de-France, France
  2. 2 Kinesiology and Health Education, University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas, USA
  3. 3 Institute of Biostastistics and Medical Informatics, Medical Faculty, University of Ljubljana, Ljubljana, Slovenia
  4. 4 CIMS, AP-HP, Paris, Île-de-France, France
  1. Correspondence to Mrs Juliana Antero, Institute for Research in Medicine and Epidemiology of Sports (IRMES, EA7329), INSEP, Paris 75012, Île-de-France, France; juliana.antero{at}


Objective To quantify US female and male Olympic athletes’ longevity and the years of life lost or saved due to multiple causes of death as compared with the US general population.

Methods Former US athletes who had participated in the summer or winter Olympic Games at least once between 1912 and 2012 were included. Olympians’ date of birth, death and the underlying causes of death were certified by the National Death Index. The Olympians’ overall and cause-specific mortality were compared with the US general population based on the US life tables, adjusted by sex, period and age. Mortality differences between the populations were quantified using the years lost/years saved (YS) method.

Results 8124 US Olympians (2301 women and 5823 men) lived 5.1 years longer (YS 95% CI 4.3 to 6.0) than the general population, based on 2309 deaths observed (225 women, 2084 men). Different causes of death contributed to longevity for Olympians as follows: 2.2 years were saved (1.9 to 2.5) from cardiovascular diseases (CVDs); cancer, 1.5 years (1.3 to 1.8); respiratory diseases (eg, influenza, pneumonia), 0.8 years (0.7 to 0.9); external causes (eg, accidents, homicides), 0.5 years (0.4 to 0.6); endocrine and metabolic diseases (eg, diabetes, hyperlipidaemia), 0.4 years (0.2 to 0.5) and digestive system diseases (eg, cirrhosis, hepatic failure), 0.3 years (0.2 to 0.4). Mortality rates due to nervous system disorders (eg, Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons’s diseases) and mental illness (eg, dementia, schizophrenia) were not different from the general population.

Conclusion US Olympians lived longer than the general population, an advantage mainly conferred by lower risks of CVD and cancer. Nervous system disorders and mental illness did not differ between US Olympians and the general population.

  • athlete
  • Olympics
  • longevity
  • cardiovascular
  • cancer

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  • Contributors JA designed the study, analysed the data and wrote the manuscript, MP-P analysed the data and reviewed the paper, QDL analysed the data, HT collected the data and reviewed the paper, J-FT designed the study and reviewed the paper.

  • Funding This work was supported by grant from the Assistance Publique-Hôpitaux de Paris (AP-HP).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient and public involvement Patients and/or the public were involved in the design, conduct, reporting or dissemination plans of this research. Refer to the 'Methods' section for further details.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Ethics approval The protocol for the present study was approved by the Institutional Review Board at the University of Texas at Austin and was assigned to the approval number 2015-03-0035. The data were strictly subjected to the confidential data control plan according to the specification set by the NDI.

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

  • Data availability statement Data regarding death certification is strictly subjected to the confidential data control plan according to the specification set by the National Death Index.