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Outrunning the grim reaper: longevity of the first 200 sub-4 min mile male runners


Objectives To determine the impact of running a sub-4 min mile on longevity. It was hypothesised that there would be an increase in longevity for runners who successfully completed a sub-4 min mile compared with the general population.

Methods As part of this retrospective cohort study, the Sub-4 Alphabetic Register was used to extract the first 200 athletes to run a sub-4 min mile. Each runner’s date of birth, date of their first successful mile attempt, current age (if alive) or age at death was compared with the United Nations Life Tables to determine the difference in each runner’s current age or age at death with their country of origin-specific life expectancy.

Results Of the first 200 sub-4 min mile runners (100% male), 60 were dead (30%) and 140 were still alive. Sub-4 min mile runners lived an average of 4.7 years beyond their predicted life expectancy (95% CI 4.7 to 4.8). When accounting for the decade of completion (1950s, 1960s or 1970s), the longevity benefits were 9.2 years (n=22; 95% CI 8.3 to 10.1), 5.5 years (n=88; 95% CI 5.3 to 5.7) and 2.9 years (n=90; 95% CI 2.7 to 3.1), respectively.

Conclusion Sub-4 min mile runners have increased longevity compared with the general population, thereby challenging the notion that extreme endurance exercise may be detrimental to longevity.

  • Exercise
  • Athletes
  • Longevity
  • Running

Data availability statement

Data sharing not applicable as no datasets generated and/or analysed for this study. Not applicable - all data were obtained from free publicly available databases or information sources.

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