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French Tour de France Cyclists Live Longer than Non-Cyclist Compatriots

Update Date: Sep 03, 2013 03:25 PM EDT

In order to lead a healthy lifestyle, people have to eat well and maintain an active lifestyle. Several research studies have repeatedly found that exercise could reduce certain health complications, such as blood pressure and heart disease. Even though leading a physically active life can be beneficial, when it comes to athletes, performance-enhancing drugs could stunt these health benefits. In a new study, researchers decided to compare the life expectancy of French cyclists who participated in the Tour de France to the life expectancy of their non-cyclist compatriots. Even though the researchers could not conclude anything about the effects of performance-enhancing drugs, they found that cyclists lived longer than non-cyclists.

"In the context of recent concerns regarding performance-enhancing techniques and the potential negative health benefits of excessive high-level physical activity, data on the long-term outcomes and causes of death in elite endurance cyclists is of particular interest," said Xavier Jouven, M.D., Ph.D. from the Sudden Death Expertise Center in Paris according to Medical Xpress.

In order to compare cyclists to non-cyclists, the researchers examined data on 786 French cyclists and compared the data to the general population of men around the same age living in France. These cyclists had participated in at least one Tour de France any time between 1947 and 2012.The researchers calculated that the median Tour de France races was 2.5 with the median age for the first race at 25-years-old. The participants were followed for the median of 37.4 years. According to the Human Mortality Database, the researchers used a standardized mortality ratio (SMR) in order to compare the death rates. The SMR was calculated using the actual death rates of cyclists and the death rate of non-cyclists. A SMR lower than one would indicate that the cyclists lived longer than the general population.

The researchers found that out of the 786 cyclists, 26 percent of them or 208 had died before September 01, 212. The SMR for cyclists was 0.59, which meant that cyclists were 41 percent less likely to die than the general French population of men. The researchers identified the two main causes of death, which were neoplasms and cardiovascular disease. Neoplasms were responsible for 32.2 percent of deaths and heart disease was responsible for 29 percent of deaths. The SMRs of both of these causes of deaths were still lower than the general population with 0.56 for neoplasms and 0.67 for cardiovascular disease.

"Although out results are reassuring to some extent, since no death has been observed since 1990, we have to remain careful since we cannot directly assess the potential harmfulness of doping through our analyses and results," Jouven said.

The researchers also looked at cancer rates. The three main cancers were digestive, lung and prostate, which were responsible for 35 percent, 22 percent and seven percent of the diagnoses in cyclists respectively. Another cause of death that the researchers looked into was categorized as external causes, which mostly included trauma-related deaths. External causes contributed to 15.8 percent of deaths with the SMR of 1.06, which is around the same rate seen in the general public. Lastly, the other causes of deaths were infectious diseases, endocrine and nutritional diseases, neurological, digestive system diseases and genitourinary disease.

The researchers noted that SMRs remained relatively consistent across all age groups, with the exception of people under 30. SMRs also stayed consistent across the different periods, even though some of the time spans involved more drug use than others. Until more recent data shows up, the researchers could not conclude what the effects of doping had on life expectancy. The study was provided by the European Society of Cardiology.

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