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Sep 24, 2013

Tour de France Riders Live Longer, Study Finds

Elite cyclists live longer and have lower risk of death compared to average adults.

Vigorous exercise might not be so dangerous after all, according to a study tracking the health of Tour de France riders. Published in the European Heart Journal, this study followed a total of 786 French cyclists who participated in the grueling bicycle race between 1947 and 2012. On average, riders participated in 2.5 Tour de France races—an event that has been compared to running a marathon for three weeks. After following participants for as many as 37 years, researchers found that cyclists lived six years longer and had 41% lower risk of death compared to average French males. The only downside? There was a high frequency of trauma-related deaths in the group (15.8%)—most likely a result of serious biking accidents.

These findings contradict past research linking vigorous physical activity to increased cardiovascular risk, but experts warn against applying these findings to the general population. Only the healthiest and fittest athletes are able to complete in the race, so it’s difficult to compare these findings to less healthy individuals with chronic illness. Also, training and participating in the tour is not necessarily linked to decreased risk of death, since it only represents a small period of time in a cyclist’s life. It’s possible that other lifestyle choices like diet could play an important role in these outcomes.

So what can we learn from this study? Most importantly, cardiovascular risk associated with physical activity is all relative. Although intense physical activity on a bike may be safe for healthy, elite athletes in this case, we’re all different and should speak with our doctor to determine what level of activity is right for us. Vigorous physical activity can be dangerous for high-risk individuals, while it may be safer for other healthier patients. Physical activity is vital to promoting better health and preventing heart disease, but what type of exercise is best for each individual can vary.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What role does physical activity play in health and nutrition?
  • Regular physical activity is important for both children and adults. Based on the high rates of obesity, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommend that most Americans reduce their food intake and increase their physical activity level. Even people who are overweight can derive health benefits from engaging in some level of activity.

    According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans:

    • Children and adolescents should get 60 minutes or more of physical activity daily.
    • Optimum exercise levels for adults includes:
      • 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (or a combination of the two) each week.
      • Activity spread across the week with periods of aerobic exercise of at least 10 minutes at a time.
      • Muscle strengthening activities 2 or more days a week.
  • How does physical activity improve heart health?

  • Physical activity promotes many health benefits, such as weight control, blood pressure reduction and stress reduction. Together, these health benefits translate to improved cardiovascular health.

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