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Are elite athletes actually healthier than the average person?

We all know, and it is well- proven that regular exercise can increase the longevity of our life but, it is often assumed that elite athletes are seen as the ‘pinnacle of health’, but is that actually true? Could it be that the average individual is actually healthier than an elite performer?

In a recent study of the German Olympians revealed some surprising results. It seemed that the Olympians were unfortunately dying earlier than the average population, they also reported a lower life satisfaction compared to the general population- with higher suicide rates among Olympians than the general population. They researched into the causes of this and it can be inferred that these results could be caused by multiple factors. Olympic athletes retire young and have an extremely short career, this could be a contributing factor in many reports of lower life satisfaction, as well as the lower salary given to elite athletes in Germany. Also, Olympians could be dying more prematurely in Germany where it is known in the East of Germany for many doping allegations and scandals. Performance enhancing drugs are associated with many deadly risks, with an increased risk of suffering from high blood pressure, stroke and heart attacks. In addition, athletes are more at risk of developing sport-specific injuries which can affect the longevity of their lifespan.

But, are these results representative of other Olympians from all across the world? Studies show that elite athletes and olympians on average live around 2.8 years longer than the average individual. This is mainly to do with their reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. However, this is not as long as I originally thought they would live, as I orignially believed that they would on average live at least 10 years longer than the average individual! This study was undertaken by researching 900 former elite athletes and comparing their lifespan to their brothers. The study showed that on average former athletes survived 2 to 3 years longer than their brothers and in addition, their self-rated and health-related habits were better than their brothers. The former elite athletes were estimated to have better health, and they smoked less and were more physically active than their brothers. However, there were no significant differences in mobility, physical or psychological functioning in daily life between former athletes and their brothers.

So, from this we can clearly see that we don’t all need to be elite athletes and Olympians to extend our life, we just all need to participate regularly in exercise at least 3 times a week for around 30 minutes and create healthier habits. Just even this can have a major effect on the longevity of our life, we don’t need to be gold medallists!

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