Elite athletes live longer than the general population: a meta-analysis

Mayo Clin Proc. 2014 Sep;89(9):1195-200. doi: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2014.06.004. Epub 2014 Aug 12.


Objective: To perform a meta-analysis of cohort studies aimed at providing an accurate overview of mortality in elite athletes.

Patients and methods: We reviewed English-language scientific articles available in Medline and Web of Science databases following the recommendations of the Meta-analyses Of Observational Studies in Epidemiology group. We searched for publications on longevity and professional or elite athletes (with no restriction on the starting date and up to March 31, 2014).

Results: Ten studies, including data from a total of 42,807 athletes (707 women), met all inclusion criteria. The all-cause pooled standard mortality ratio (SMR) was 0.67 (95% CI, 0.55-0.81; P<.001) with no evidence of publication bias (P=.24) but with significant heterogeneity among studies (I(2)=96%; Q=224.46; P<.001). Six studies provided data on cardiovascular disease (CVD) and 5 on cancer (in a total of 35,920 and 12,119 athletes, respectively). When only CVD was considered as a cause of mortality, the pooled SMR was 0.73 (95% CI, 0.65-0.82; P<.001) with no evidence of bias (P=.68) or heterogenity among studies (I(2)=38%; Q=8.07; P=.15). The SMR for cancer was 0.60 (95% CI, 0.38-0.94; P=.03) with no evidence of bias (P=.20) despite a significant heterogeneity (I(2)=91%; Q=44.21; P<.001).

Conclusion: The evidence available indicates that top-level athletes live longer than the general population and have a lower risk of 2 major causes of mortality, namely, CVD and cancer.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Athletes / statistics & numerical data*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / mortality
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longevity*
  • Male
  • Mortality
  • Neoplasms / mortality
  • Risk Factors