Tour de France participants lived longer than their same-age French counterparts
(ESC congres Amsterdam 2 sep 2013)
Prof Xavier Jouven, cardiologist from Paris, analyzed internet data from French cyclists who participated in the Tour de France between 1947-2012, and compared them with the French male population of the same age. On sep 1st 2012 578 (74%) French cyclists were still alive. The mortality rate of the cyclists was 41% lower than in the general population. The main causes of death were cardiovascular disease (29%) and neoplasms (32.2%), which was less frequently that in the general population. Jouven concluded that high level of exercise such as the 3 weeks lasting Tour de France is not bad for your health.
But, there are some comments (Panhuyzen) on this study: (1) this group of French cyclists are top-level athletes who are highly trained and had several medical clearances before. The chance of identification of a silent cardiovascular disease in this group is very low, compared to the control group. Actually these groups are not comparable; (2) their same-age French counterparts are often from a lower socio-economic class and have probably an unhealthy live style (obesitas, high blood pressure, diabetes, low exercise performance, smoking), leading to a higher number of cardiovascular diseases; (3) we did not hear data about treatable cardiovascular disease during the course of the life of the cyclists, such as arrhythmia or pacemaker implantation. It is well known that many years of high level training may induce fibrosis of the heart, leading to for instance atrial fibrillation and pump failure. One can conclude that pre-participation screening in athletes is useful, and sports participation on a regular basis with a good life style is healthy.