Professional cycling has a reputation for premature deaths, either from tragic crashes on the road or from dangerous performance-boosting substances.
But a new study, based on French participants in the Tour de France, says that male pro cyclists are likelier to live longer than their counterparts in the general public — a whopping 6.3 years more, on average.
A team led by Eloi Marijon of the Paris Cardiovascular Centre measured the longevity of all French cyclists – 786 in all – who finished at least once in the Tour since 1947, and compared this against the lifespan of average Frenchmen.
As of September 1 2012, 208 out of the 786 cyclists had died.
Mortality rates among this group were 41 percent lower than in the general population, they found.
Deaths from cancer and respiratory disease were 44 percent and 72 lower respectively, and mortality from cardiovascular causes was down by a third.
The longevity held true despite three periods of doping in cycling — amphetamines, in the 1950s and 1960s; anabolic steroids in the 1970s and 1980s; and EPO and growth hormones after 1990.
The team add the caveat that the data from the post-1990 doping era are preliminary, and more time is needed to confirm the trend.
The longer lifespan could be explained in part by a healthy way of life, as many athletes continue to practice sport after they retire and very few of them smoke, says the study.
The findings were being presented on Tuesday at the Congress of the European Society of Cardiology in Amsterdam.