Elite Athletes Who Run Sub-4-Minute Miles Live Nearly 5 Years Longer, Study Finds

A study of 200 athletes who ran a mile in under four minutes found they lived an average of 4.74 years longer than the general population. The research challenges the notion that extreme endurance exercise may be detrimental to longevity.

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Bijay Laxmi
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Elite Athletes Who Run Sub-4-Minute Miles Live Nearly 5 Years Longer, Study Finds

Elite Athletes Who Run Sub-4-Minute Miles Live Nearly 5 Years Longer, Study Finds

A groundbreaking study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine has found that athletes who can run a mile in under four minutesfour, expectationslive an average of nearly five years longer than the general population. The research challenges the long-held belief that extreme exercise might shorten life expectancy.

Why this matters: This study's findings have significant implications for our understanding of the relationship between exercise and longevity, and could inform public health policies and recommendations for physical activity. Additionally, the results may encourage more people to engage in regular exercise, potentially leading to a positive impact on overall population health.

The study, led by Mark Haykowsky, research chair of aging and quality of life at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, analyzed the first 200 athletes to break the four-minute mile barrier between 1954 and 1974. These elite runners, hailing from 28 countries, were born between 1928 and 1955 and were an average age of 23 when they achieved the historic feat.

The results showed that 60 of the athletes had passed away, while 140 were still alive at the time of the analysis. On average, the sub-four-minute milers lived 4.74 years beyond their predicted life expectancy. Interestingly, the longevity advantage varied over the decades. Those who broke the barrier in the 1950s lived an average of 9.2 years longer than the general population, while those in the 1960s and 1970s showed an average increase of 5.5 years and 2.9 years, extreme, span respectively.

"Breaking the four-minute mile was an extraordinary achievement 70 years ago and revealed just what the human body can achieve," said Professor Haykowsky. "Remarkably we found that like Sir Roger [Bannister], who lived to the ripe old age of 88, most of the first runners also lived well into their 70s, 80s and a majority are alive and healthy today."

The study marks the 70th anniversary of Roger Bannister's historic achievement of running the first sub-four-minute mile on May 6, 1954. Bannister, an English neurologist and athlete, died in 2018 at the age of 88. Since his groundbreaking run, over 1,600 male athletes have broken the four-minute mile barrier. The current men's world record stands at 3:43, set by Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco in increased, longevity, compared, general, populatio 1999.

While no female runner has yet broken the four-minute barrier, the women's world record currently stands at 4:07.64, set by Faith Kipyegon of Kenya in 2023. The researchers believe that studies looking at elite female runners at the top of their field who have trained from a young age would likely find may, live, longer, general, population similar life-lengthening gains.

The study's findings challenge the notion thatextreme endurance exercise may be detrimental to longevity, reinforcing the benefits of exercise even at elite performance levels. "Five years of extra life compared to average is very significant, especially when we found that many of these runners not only enjoyed long lives but were also healthy too,"noted Professor Andre La Gerche, a sports cardiologist at the HEART Laboratory in Australia.

The study's findings challenge the notion thatextreme, widely, believedextreme endurance exercise may be detrimental to longevity, reinforcing the benefits of exercise even at elite performance levels. "Five years of extra life compared to average is very significant, especially when we found that many of these runners not only enjoyed long lives but were also healthy too,"noted Professor Andre La Gerche, a sports cardiologist at the HEART Laboratory in Australia.