Wow! “Scientific study” reveals that healthy people live longer

This has been published in the BMJ today so it obviously has been “peer-reviewed” before publication. Crunch a little data (why only Olympic medalists and not all Olympic participants?), do some elementary statistics and come up with something profoundly obvious and it passes for “science”. It took no less than six authors!!

Survival of the fittest: retrospective cohort study of the longevity of Olympic medallists in the modern era, by Philip M Clarke, Simon J Walter, Andrew Hayen, William J Mallon, Jeroen Heijmans, and David M Studdert. BMJ 2012; 345

doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e8308 (Published 13 December 2012)

15 174 Olympic athletes from nine country groups (United States, Germany, Nordic countries, Russia, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Canada, and Australia and New Zealand) who won medals in the Olympic Games held in 1896-2010. Medallists were compared with matched cohorts in the general population (by country, age, sex, and year of birth).

Results More medallists than matched controls in the general population were alive 30 years after winning (relative conditional survival 1.08, 95% confidence interval 1.07 to 1.10). Medallists lived an average of 2.8 years longer than controls. Medallists in eight of the nine country groups had a significant survival advantage compared with controls. Gold, silver, and bronze medallists each enjoyed similar sized survival advantages. Medallists in endurance sports and mixed sports had a larger survival advantage over controls at 30 years (1.13, 1.09 to 1.17; 1.11, 1.09 to 1.13) than that of medallists in power sports (1.05, 1.01 to 1.08).

Conclusions Olympic medallists live longer than the general population, irrespective of country, medal, or sport. This study was not designed to explain this effect, but possible explanations include genetic factors, physical activity, healthy lifestyle, and the wealth and status that come with international sporting glory.

The discussion is remarkably mundane and offers little insight into anything:

One explanation is that athletes are much healthier than the average person. Part of this advantage could be genetic, but environmental factors undoubtedly amplify genetic advantages. Young athletes who exhibit exceptional physical talents are often selected into national training squads to undergo intensive physical training over many years. Most Olympic medallists will have come through such programmes.

Strong evidence indicates that physical activity confers many health benefits, including improved functional health status and reduced risks of cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, stroke, depression, type 2 diabetes, and breast and colon cancer ………

Ah well! One more publication to add to the list.

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