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Olympic Medalists Live Longer—And So Can You

With a longer average lifespan than the general public, Olympic medalists might be proof that more exercise is good for you.

Winning a gold medal at the next Olympics may be out of your reach (it’s okay, you can admit it), but you can live longer, just like Olympic medalists.

In a study recently published on the BMJ website, researchers looked at the health and longevity of Olympic medalists—dating all the way back to 1895—and found that the average lifespan of Olympic athletes is 2.8 years longer than the general public. Some other key findings:

  • The gold medal for the most health benefits went to athletes in non-contact sports, like cycling, rowing and tennis.
  • While contact sports such as boxing and hockey still helped athletes live longer than the rest of us, these medalists were 11 percent more likely to die than non-contact athletes, possibly due to the larger number of sports injuries over time.
  • Athletes in high- and moderate-intensity sports didn’t live longer than those in low-intensity events—so in other words, cycling and rowing don't have an advantage over cricket and tennis.

The research didn’t look at the reasons behind the longer average lifespan for medalists, but the authors said that “possible explanations include genetic factors, physical activity, healthy lifestyle, and the wealth and status that come from international sporting glory.”

But in terms of living longer, 2.8 years is not an impossible feat. You could reach that just by meeting the recommended 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise, which has been shown to extend the average lifespan by less than a year to several years.

So what are you waiting for? It’s time to start "training" for the next Olympics. You may not win a medal, but mabye you’ll live long enough to see skateboarding and adventure racing become Olympic sports.

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