Longevity of outstanding sporting achievers: Mind versus muscle

PLoS One. 2018 May 3;13(5):e0196938. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0196938. eCollection 2018.


Background: While there is strong evidence showing the survival advantage of elite athletes, much less is known about those engaged in mind sports such as chess. This study aimed to examine the overall as well as regional survival of International Chess Grandmasters (GMs) with a reference to the general population, and compare relative survival (RS) of GMs with that of Olympic medallists (OMs).

Methods: Information on 1,208 GMs and 15,157 OMs, respectively, from 28 countries were extracted from the publicly available data sources. The Kaplan-Meier method was used to estimate the survival rates of the GMs. A Cox proportional hazards model was used to adjust the survival for region, year at risk, age at risk and sex, and to estimate the life expectancy of the GMs. The RS rate was computed by matching each GM or OM by year at risk, age at risk and sex to the life table of the country the individual represented.

Results: The survival rates of GMs at 30 and 60 years since GM title achievement were 87% and 15%, respectively. The life expectancy of GMs at the age of 30 years (which is near the average age when they attained a GM title) was 53.6 ([95% CI]: 47.7-58.5) years, which is significantly greater than the overall weighted mean life expectancy of 45.9 years for the general population. Compared to Eastern Europe, GMs in North America (HR [95% CI]: 0.51 [0.29-0.88]) and Western Europe (HR [95% CI]: 0.53 [0.34-0.83]) had a longer lifespan. The RS analysis showed that both GMs and OMs had a significant survival advantage over the general population, and there was no statistically significant difference in the RS of GMs (RS [95% CI]: 1.14 [1.08-1.20]) compared to OMs: (RS [95% CI]: 1.09 [1.07-1.11]) at 30 years.

Conclusion: Elite chess players live longer than the general population and have a similar survival advantage to elite competitors in physical sports.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Athletes*
  • Europe
  • Europe, Eastern
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Expectancy / trends*
  • Life Tables
  • Longevity / physiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • North America
  • Play and Playthings / psychology*
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Sports / physiology*
  • Sports / psychology

Grant support

This work was supported by the Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research, Australian Research Council (CE170100005 awarded to Prof. Philip M Clarke). The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.