Do Triathletes / Endurance Athletes Live Longer? Why!

There is no question that participating in sports such as triathlon can help people to be healthier. Triathlon is a unique sport made up of three different disciplines – swimming, cycling and running. On their own, each one of these sports can have numerous health benefits. When combined together and performed one right after another as they are in triathlon, the positive results are even more dramatic.

Physical benefits of triathlon include building stronger muscles and bones, reducing body fat, lowering blood pressure, reducing risks of heart disease and preventing diabetes. The three sports combined utilize all the major muscle groups, making the entire body stronger and leaner. This includes the heart and lungs, which give more energy to get through the day.

There are also improvements to mental health when participating in triathlon. Those endorphins that are released during a workout can do wonders for how we perceive the world around us. Many triathletes note higher levels of self-confidence, a more positive outlook on life, and fewer symptoms of depression. Some even say that exercises like triathlon can improve cognitive function and improve mental stamina.

As you can see, there are all kinds of health-related benefits that can come from participating in endurance sports like triathlon.

But do triathletes/endurance athletes live longer? The evidence points out that endurance athletes tend to live longer than people who are not competitive athletes. All those health benefits stack up and prevent a host of diseases that can cause people to die at an earlier age. A 1993 study in Finland found that endurance athletes tend to live almost 6 years longer on average than those who don’t exercise.

This study may be a little dated, but the findings have been upheld over the years by similar studies. Athletes, and in particular endurance athletes, will live longer and healthier lives than their non-exercising counterparts. (Source)

Today, the average life expectancy is around 80 years. This means that participating in endurance sports like triathlons can help us to live an average of 7 percent longer!

Of course, this doesn’t mean that finishing one triathlon is going to automatically add extra years to our lives. It would be great, but things don’t really work that way. The people who have the longest lifespans are those who have participated in endurance activities for decades. It seems that the more years that someone remains aerobically active, the more years they will be around to enjoy life.

Which Athletes Have the Longest Life Expectancy?

Endurance athletes like triathletes tend to have the longest life expectancy of all. The longer and more intense the sport, the less the risk of dying at a younger age.

However, those who participate in sports of any kind are going to be healthier and live longer on average than those who remain sedentary. The same Finnish study mentioned earlier found that athletes in team sports like basketball, hockey, and soccer lived 4 years longer on average.

Interestingly, of all the team sports, Tennis players seem to live the longest of all. This may be because tennis leads to fewer injuries, enhanced cardiovascular health, and can continue to be played well into our later years.

Power athletes, who participate in sports like weightlifting, wrestling or boxing, tend to have a 1.6-year boost to their expected lifespan. This may not seem like a lot, but who wouldn’t take a bonus year or two if they had the opportunity?

Do Triathletes / Endurance Athletes Die Younger?

There are risks that are involved in endurance sports that can lead to unfortunate results like accidental death or cardiac events. However, in general, most triathletes/endurance athletes do not die younger than non-athletes.

The biggest risk for triathletes seems to be a cardiovascular failure or heart attack. From 1985-2016, 135 people died while participating in triathlons [source].

The majority of those deaths were related to cardiovascular disease. Another surprising fact was that 90 of the deaths occurred during the swim portion of the race. This just goes to show how important it is for people to consult a doctor to determine if it is a good idea to take on any kind of strenuous physical activity.

Often, we hear about runners or cyclists getting struck or run off the road while training. It should be noted that during that same study of triathlon races for over 20 years, there were 15 accidents that resulted in death. It’s possible that this number was able to be kept so low because many race courses are closed to vehicular traffic.

So next time you are out on the course, be sure to give a thumbs up and a thank you to the course marshals and police officers who are out there keeping all the athletes safe.

Are Triathletes / Endurance Athletes Healthier in Old Age?

Triathletes and endurance athletes are most certainly healthier in old age. Triathlon training reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, and more. The more risk factors that are reduced or eliminated, the longer and healthier the life.

While there are always exceptions, endurance athletes tend to want to stay active and healthy as they age. The compounding effect that years of cross-training has on the body leads to stronger bones and connective tissues. This means endurance athletes will have fewer occurrences of musculoskeletal issues in their later years.

There are even studies that show decreased incidents of cancer, especially colon and breast cancer, among people who are physically active 5 days a week or more. The higher the level of physical exertion, the more it seemed to be effective. Pairing this fact along with all the other benefits of exercise just goes to show how beneficial it is to get and stay active as we age. (Source)

Are Triathletes Healthier than Non-Athletes?

Very simply stated, yes.

Triathletes are healthier than non-athletes in almost every sense of the word. Participation in sports of any kind will provide mental and physical health benefits. The longer that participation lasts throughout the lifetime, the more pronounced those improvements will be.

The greatest physical health benefits are seen in sports like triathlon which have a high aerobic demand. Athletes who swim, cycle, and run have much lower rates of heart disease, stroke, and certain types of cancer than people who don’t exercise.

Stronger bones are another benefit of endurance sports, which means triathletes are less prone to suffer from osteoporosis fractures.

Then there are the mental health benefits that can come from endurance sports. These include improvements in mood, productivity, confidence, and the ability to handle stress.

Even among other athletes, triathletes seem to have some of the biggest gains in health due to the combination of three sports. Single sport athletes can be more susceptible to overuse injuries due to the strain on the same parts of the body over a number of years.

Because triathletes have to cross-train their bodies by regularly practicing three sports that utilize very different sets of muscles, there are fewer incidents of injuries like tendinitis or stress fractures.

As you can see, there are lots of benefits to being an endurance athlete. Not only can triathlons make you stronger and healthier, but they can also even help you to live longer! So, if you have been on the fence as to whether or not to get into the sport of triathlon, think about all the reasons above. Give it a try and if you stick with it you may gain some extra years on your life as a result!

Brad Birky

Brad Birky is an endurance athlete and trained chef who has qualified for and completed the Boston Marathon as well as multiple Ironman distance triathlons

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