Are sports unhealthy? This is what scientific evidence suggests

Although it became commonsense to claim that physical activity is only healthy in moderation, that real sports are unhealthy, since the 1950’s these claims have been debunked. In 1956, Montoye and collaborators (1956) compared 629 athletes with 583 non-athletes in the same environment and verified there was no difference in life expectancy or type of death. In 1971, Schnohr (1971) studied 297 sports champions in Denmark, born between 1880-1910. These champions had a significantly lower mortality rate than the general population.

Since the year 2000, a set of studies not only confirmed that vigorous physical activity promotes higher quality of life and longevity, but that high performance athletes are, by the parameters, healthier than the general population, in contrast to popular belief (Gajewski & Poznaska 2008, Teramoto & Bungum 2009, Apor & Rádi 2010).

Some anecdotes for your enjoyment:

  • John Grimek, Olympic Weightlifter and then bodybuilder, died at 88 years of age
  • The group SOS, “Skydivers over Sixty”, has 48 members and has been growing since its founding
  • “Barefoot water ski”, which requires extreme agility, was represented in 2011 by George Blair, 92 years old
  • Ken Mink, 73 years old in 2011, plays competitive basketball with kids a third his age

There are thousands of other interesting examples of elderly athletes performing and having fun. It’s time to reconsider some preconceptions.
Montoye, H.J. et al. Study of the longevity and morbidity of college athletes. J Am Med Assoc. 1956; 162 (12): 1132-1134.

Schnohr, P. Longevity and causes of death in male athletic champions. The Lancet, Volume 298, Issue 7738, Pages 1364 – 1366, 18 December 1971

Abela, E.L. & Krugera, M.L. Longevity of Major League Baseball Players. Research in Sports Medicine, Volume 13, Issue 1 March 2005 , pages 1 – 5

Apor P, Rádi A. [Master sportsmen. Health status and life expectancies of physically active elderly] Orv Hetil. 2010 Jan 17;151(3):110-3.

Teramoto M, Bungum TJ. Mortality and longevity of elite athletes. J Sci Med Sport. 2010 Jul;13(4):410-6. Epub 2009 Jul 1. (estudo que mostra que a expectativa de vida de atletas é maior que o da população)

Gajewski AK, Poznanska A. Mortality of top athletes, actors and clergy in Poland: 1924-2000 follow-up study of the long term effect of physical activity. Eur J Epidemiol. 2008;23(5):335-40.


Picture credits:

Earl Fee at the 2010 USATF Masters Championships

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