The heart of the matter: years-saved from cardiovascular and cancer deaths in an elite athlete cohort with over a century of follow-up

Eur J Epidemiol. 2018 Jun;33(6):531-543. doi: 10.1007/s10654-018-0401-0. Epub 2018 May 5.


To quantify the years of life saved from cardiovascular (CVD), cancer and overall deaths among elite athletes according to their main type of physiological effort performed in the Olympic Games. All French athletes participating in the Games from 1912 to 2012, with vital status validated and cause of death (if concerned) identified by the national registries were included (n = 2814, 455 died) and classified according to 6 groups of effort: POWER (continuous effort < 45 s); INTERMEDIATE (45 s ≤ continuous effort < 600 s); ENDURANCE (continuous effort ≥ 600 s); POLYVALENT (participating in different events entering different classifications), INTERMITTENT (intermittent effort, i.e. team sports); PRECISION (targeting events). The theoretical years-lost method was adapted to calculate gains in longevity (years-saved) according to specific-risks under the competing risks model and was implemented in R software. Considering overall-deaths, all groups significantly saved, on average, 6.5 years of life (95% CI 5.8-7.2) compared to the general population. This longevity advantage is mainly driven by a lower risk of cancer which, isolated, contributed to significantly save 2.3 years of life (95% CI 1.2-1.9) on average in each group. The risk of CVD-related mortality in the ENDURANCE and PRECISION groups is not significantly different from the general population. The other groups significantly saved, on average, 1.6 years of life (95% CI 1.2-1.9) from CVD death. The longevity benefits in elite athletes are associated with the type of effort performed during their career, mainly due to differences on the CVD-risk of death.

Keywords: Athletes; Cancer; Cardiovascular; Mortality; Years-lost; Years-saved.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Athletes*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / mortality*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • France / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neoplasms / mortality*
  • Registries