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Outrunning the grim reaper: longevity of the first 200 sub-4 min mile male runners
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  • Published on:
    Have we forgotten about the healthy worker effect when comparing elite athletes to the general population?
    • Daphne I Ling, Associate Professor National Cheng Kung University and Weill Cornell Medicine

    The "healthy worker effect" is an obvious explanation for the authors' findings. In this case, they have compared the extreme winners of the genetic lottery (sub 4-minute mile male runners) with the general population, a mixed bag of healthy and non-healthy people. The outcome of all-cause mortality also presents issues, as the reason of death may or may not be health-related.

    The steep decline in the longevity advantage over time indicates that this advantage may not last as the general population becomes healthier (and possibly more active). It is plausible that there may even be an opposite effect (sub 4-minute mile male runners live shorter lives) in the coming decades.

    While general population statistics are easier to obtain, comparing them with those of elite athletes to make conclusions about lifespan does not answer the question of whether extreme exercise has a detrimental effect on health. A more fair comparison group would be marathoners, short-distance runners, or even runners who have not broken the 4-minute mark.

    Conflict of Interest:
    None declared.