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23.11.2016


Peak young, die young

Elite athletes who achieve their personal records at a relatively young age die years before elite athletes who peak at a later age. Dutch longevity researchers write about this in Aging.

Study
The researchers used data from 1055 athletes who took part in the Olympic games in the period 1896-1936. They looked at the athletes' personal records, the age at which they achieved them and the age at which the athletes died.

The researchers confined themselves to track and field athletes. They performed two analyses: one in which they looked at all the athletes, and one in which they eliminated all athletes who died before the age of fifty from their data sets. Both analyses produced the same results.

The number of female Olympic athletes in that period was still low, so the researchers think their results only say something about men.

Results
The better the personal records of the Olympic athletes, the shorter their lives, as is shown in the figure on the left below.


Elite athletes who achieve their personal records at a relatively young age die years before elite athletes who peak at a later age. Dutch longevity researchers write about this in Aging.



A stronger correlation can be seen in the figure on the right above. Olympic athletes who achieved their personal records at a young age died years younger than athletes who achieved their personal records later in life.

The average age at which the athletes achieved their records was 24.

Mechanism
The researchers don't think that the trade-off between athletic success and longevity is caused by doing physical activity. "Physical excellence and sports may have a direct cost due to intense training and fierce competition, especially when there is a high risk of bodily collision or levels of physical contact", they wrote.

"It is less likely that these direct costs explain the observed trade-off between early and extraordinary physical performance and longevity, since we showed a similar trade off when analyzing residual life expectancy from age 50."


Elite athletes who achieve their personal records at a relatively young age die years before elite athletes who peak at a later age. Dutch longevity researchers write about this in Aging.



"This finding supports the idea that early and extraordinary peak performance comes with a higher pace of ageing. It is tempting to speculate about the underlying biological mechanisms of this developmental constraint."

"Some have suggested that growth and subsequently, larger size, result in a body which costs more energy to maintain, explaining the higher pace of ageing. The mTOR pathway, which regulates growth in early life and pace of ageing in late life, is a potential molecular pathway that can explain for the observed trade off."

"Others have suggested that hormonal regulation of development and maintenance could play a role, as has been observed for the GH-IGF signaling pathway explaining the size-life span trade off in domestic dogs, and the muscle mass immune competence trade-off mediated by testosterone observed in primates and other species."

"All mechanistic explanations are plausible and it needs to be studied which pathways are causal, and at which we can intervene to secure longer and healthier lives."

Extrapolation
The researchers suspect that people who produce large amounts of testosterone, growth hormone and IGF-1 at a young age a) are good athletes and b) die relatively young. If this is the case, what happens to your life expectancy if you give mega-doses of synthetic versions of these hormones to young people?

Probably not much good.

Source:
Aging (Albany NY). 2016 Aug;8(8):1822-9.

More:
The more inflammatory factors, the quicker death comes 17.11.2016
Too much growth hormone reduces life expectancy 07.08.2008

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