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Healthy lifestyle and exercise overcomes effects of doping, say researchers

We hear a lot about pro athletes dying young, often in suspicious circumstances with hints of the side-effects of performance-enhancing drugs. But a study announced today at the Congress of the European Society of Cardiology found that Tour de France riders actually live longer than the general population: 6.3 years longer on average.

The study looked at 786 French cyclists who participated at least once in the Tour de France between 1947 and 2012, and compared them to the general French male population of the same age.

The researchers calculated the standardised mortality ratio of the cyclists versus the age-matched French population. Standardised mortality ratio (SMR) indicates the relative longevity of a group compared to the general population, so an SMR of less than 1.0 indicates the cyclists lived longer than the general population.

The study found that 208 of the 786 cyclist had died by September 01, 2012. That’s an SMR of 0.59 and a mortality rate 41% lower than the general population, said Xavier Jouven, MD, PhD, from the Sudden Death Expertise Center in Paris, France.

“In the context of recent concerns regarding performance-enhancing techniques and the potential negative health effects 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 Dr Jouven.

“Although our 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.”

Nevertheless, the study indicates that pro cyclists enjoyed greater longevity through two of cycling’s most notorious periods of drug use, the amphetamine era of the 1950s and 60s and the anabolic steroid period of the 1970s and 1980s.

The study puts longer lifespan of cyclists down to a generally healthier lifespan: very few smoke and many continue to take part is sport even after retirement. The cyclists’ mortality rate was 41 percent lower than in the general population. Deaths from cancer and respiratory disease were 44 percent and 72 percent lower respectively, and mortality from cardiovascular diseases was down by a third.

However, the study did find one group of cyclists with a higher death rate. In the age-group younger than 30 years, a non-significantly higher death rate was observed (SMR 1.65) compared to the general population.

“A particularly high frequency of traffic or race accident deaths were seen in this age-group,” said Dr Jouven.

Our official grumpy Northerner, John has been riding bikes for over 30 years since discovering as an uncoordinated teen that a sport could be fun if it didn't require you to catch a ball or get in the way of a hulking prop forward.

Road touring was followed by mountain biking and a career racing in the mud that was as brief as it was unsuccessful.

Somewhere along the line came the discovery that he could string a few words together, followed by the even more remarkable discovery that people were mug enough to pay for this rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work. He's pretty certain he's worked for even more bike publications than Mat Brett.

The inevitable 30-something MAMIL transition saw him shift to skinny tyres and these days he lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.

12 comments

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racyrich [259 posts] 3 years ago
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So much for the old adage that each Tour takes a year off your life.

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Karbon Kev [688 posts] 3 years ago
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not sure about the line 'Healthy lifestyle and exercise overcomes effects of doping, say researchers'. This implies we can all dope and it will be ok.

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jova54 [659 posts] 3 years ago
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I'm struggling to find the bit in their report that justifies the tag line: "Healthy lifestyle and exercise overcomes effects of doping, say researchers"

Bearing in mind that a number of the subjects had died before the research was started, did they ask the living subjects whether they had doped or not or are they just assuming that because some/most doped during their careers then it applies to all.

The other effect could be that had they not doped they would have lived even longer and what you are seeing is the result of a good level of fitness carried over from early adulthood into middle age and later.

The only valid conclusion of the research is that on average French professional riders live longer than the general population, which is probably to be expected.

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ilderracer [14 posts] 3 years ago
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Now, where have my bloodbag and needles gone?...

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kylemalco [39 posts] 3 years ago
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Doping would be offset by dangers of motorists trying to run you down

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ilovemytinbred [161 posts] 3 years ago
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Karbon Kev wrote:

This implies we can all dope and it will be ok.

Why not, they have pretty good doctors looking after them. Compared to a lot of the pharmaceuticals the general population consume, a bit of speed and EPO might not be too bad for your health in comparison??
Doping is a cheating problem, not a health problem in my opinion.

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jarredscycling [456 posts] 3 years ago
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Shocking!!! Cycling leads to healthy and long life if you don't get hit by a motorist

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banzicyclist2 [299 posts] 3 years ago
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Exercise, healthy eating and watching your weight leads to a longer life, provided some lard arsed motorist doesn't do for you first! Now who could have guessed that?  24

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PhilRuss [390 posts] 3 years ago
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[[[[ Last week this drunken motorist, (my grandad), suddenly mounted the kerb, careered along the pavement narrowly missing several pedestrians, scraped past a lamp-post, and ended up with his front against a shop-window. Nobody turned a hair, probably because he didn't have his car with him, thank goodness.
Oh, and on the exciting new topic of helmets, that Dutch lass I mentioned the other day did indeed tell me she just wore a cap, but "mostly overnight", and then giggled in that giggly way Dutch girls do. And then added: "Any helmet is better than no helmet!". I never quite figured that out, but she was great fun to go riding with, I must say.
P.R.

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Auriane [5 posts] 3 years ago
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Can you really draw the conclusion from that that vigorous exercise is good for everyone?
You need a certain physical predisposition to ride the tour and this could also be what keeps you alive for longer.

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ragtimecyclist [158 posts] 3 years ago
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Auriane, I would say you've just hit the nail on the head. The conclusion is that TdF riders on average live longer....that's all....the lifestyle stuff is speculation.

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yenrod [106 posts] 3 years ago
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I luv my tin bread gets my vote...