Sport (even extreme) is health

Last Wednesday we published an article from the newspaper el mundo, explaining that in the long run endurance sports are harmful to the health of some people, and the practice of this sport could affect the heart.

Well, today we publish another article in the newspaper el pais, where it is said that sport, even if extreme, is healthy for people. We leave you the full article:

Of all the things that are said about professional cyclists, which are not few in our daily times, and not very beautiful either, there is at least one of which they can really feel proud, the confirmation that, in effect, His is a trade from the past, an old sport, slow and slow to develop, anachronistic in this cyberglobalized age.


So old, so old that, according to numerous studies on the effects of physical activity on aging and health, it is the life of a cyclist (and also that of a marathon runner and that of a cross-country skier, or any endurance athlete) that It is more similar to that of the Paleolithic human being, that is, to the way of life that our organism continues to consider the ideal.

Strenuous resistance exercise increases life expectancy: it's in our genes.

For centuries, the popular belief has been that competitive sport was bad for one's health and shortened one's life expectancy. And even athletes accused of doping, such as the athlete Marta Domínguez, affirm from the outset, to justify a possible doping drift, that running as they do, going to the limit of their capacity in all competitions, torturing their body daily, cannot be, in itself, good for health. However, exercise physiologists have reached the opposite conclusion: it is more likely that someone who participated in high-level sports competition in their youth will live longer, and the more endurance the specialty, the more so.

"Genetically, the inhabitants of the XNUMXst century continue to be citizens of the Paleolithic, so those who lead a more active lifestyle will live longer," says Alejandro Lucía, professor of Physiology at the European University of Madrid. "Less risk of chronic diseases will suffer, as proven by endurance athletes."

To affirm this, Lucía relies on a recent publication in the British Journal of Sports Medicine from research led by Jonathan Ruiz, from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, which reviews 15 scientific studies that unequivocally associate participation in sports competitions with life expectancy. "In the Paleolithic, the hunter-gatherer human being spent the day running, moving, and had a daily energy expenditure of more than 3.000 calories and their food intake was similar, so obesity did not exist," says Lucía, who participated in the study with a genetic comparison between high-level athletes and the general population. "While, in today's society, so sedentary, our average spending is only 38% compared to the Paleolithic, and we continue to consume 3.000, with which obesity is inevitable."

“It is said that elite sport is not healthy, but what is the scientific evidence that supports such a statement? Do elite athletes live less?” asks José Antonio López Calbet, a physiologist at the University of Las Palmas. “Published data suggest that elite athletes who have undergone endurance tests live one to four years longer than people of comparable age and similar place of birth. On the other hand, athletes who practice power sports (throwers, weightlifters) have a shorter life expectancy”.

It has been suggested that the decrease in life expectancy of some athletes in the past could be related to doping. So: is elite sport bad or not? Older adults who were former elite endurance athletes are at higher risk of atrial fibrillation (a type of arrhythmia). In any case, it is much more dangerous for health and quality of life not to play sports than to practice one hour of exercise every day.

Our genetic footprint was modeled in the Paleolithic, and cyclists, who are exaggerated, thousands of years later not only maintain it, but have corrected it to increase it. "During a stage of the Tour, a cyclist can spend up to 6.000 or 8.000 calories," says Lucía. "No matter how much he eats, it is very difficult, of course, for him to recover what he spent, so they end the Tour on their bones." Very thin, and at the same time very healthy. So healthy that, according to a study carried out by the Department of Physiology of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Valencia, being a Tour runner is synonymous with longevity and quality of life. And they are not based on the example of Federico Bahamontes, the winner of the 59 Tour, upright and alive as a poplar, healthy as a bull, leading a full life in all senses at 82, but on a comparative demographic analysis between the life and death of 834 French, Belgian and Italian riders born between 1892 and 1942 and who finished at least one Tour between 1930 and 1964, and the general population of those countries.

The result is spectacular. While the general population survival rate is 50% at 73,5 years, nearly 70% of Tour participants were still alive at that age, with the 50% rate reaching 81,5 years. , which means, according to the authors, led by Professor José Viña and Fabián Sanchís-Gomar, a 17% increase in average longevity.

Perhaps the results of the study would not be so happy if they only focused on the Tour winners, since 11 of those who prevailed in the postwar period have already died, four of them -Bobet, Anquetil, Nencini and Fignon- of cancer and around the age of 50 years (two others committed suicide, one died of an overdose and the remaining four died either accidentally or already old, like Gino Bartali, at 86). The dean of the 19 surviving post-war winners is the Swiss Ferdi Kubler, winner of the 1951 Tour, who is 91 years old; They are followed by Frenchman Roger Walkowiak (Tour '56), at 83, and Bahamontes at 82.

“And perhaps because of these data, and because of all the negative news associated with doping, the general belief was that the Tour was bad for your health, but we have measured what the Tour riders lived between the years 1930 and 1964. The curve shows that Tour riders live longer than the general population. This study, which will be published in the International Journal of Sport Medicine, it breaks the paradigm”, says José Viña.

The bad reputation of high competition sport, the consideration that the exercise that led the body to explore the frontiers of resistance, was harmful to health, is not a thing of today, although for some unscrupulous specialists it has been precisely that concept. the one that would allow them to justify the use of doping as medication to help the body recover after reaching exhaustion

As the study by Ruiz and Lucía recalls, Hippocrates, in antiquity, already warned against him: "There is no one in a more risky state of health than athletes." And also Galen: “Athletes live a life contrary to the precepts of hygiene. When they leave their profession they fall into a dangerous state and most do not live to old age. And, even in 1968, a study reflected as a surprising and negative fact that all the rowers of the 1948 Harvard University team had died.

But the studies proving otherwise, and not only the one from the Valencian university with the Tour riders, have fallen like an avalanche. One of them shows that Oxford and Cambridge rowers live longer than non-rowers in their same classrooms (which, by the way, eliminates the misgivings caused by comparing the lives of athletes, a very specific group, with the general population). , of different ages and social status), and also those from Harvard and Yale, and the Japanese university students who participated in sports competitions and the sports champions from Denmark, and the non-Maori from the New Zealand rugby team.

"There is a polygenic profile common to long-distance athletes," says Lucía. "But there is no or we have not found proof of the existence of genetic variants related to the possibility of suffering from chronic diseases or related to life expectancy."

In a genetic study with 100 long-distance athletes (elite marathon runners, professional cyclists) and 100 healthy people as a control group, Lucía's team observed that the two groups had the same genotype in terms of diseases (although, the study was limited to only 33 polymorphisms). “Indeed, there is no evidence that the world's best endurance athletes are genetically predisposed to have fewer diseases. Thus, the association between life expectancy and the practice of long-distance sports is not influenced by genetic selection”, says Lucía. “If it is not genetics, it is therefore necessary to talk about lifestyles: it seems that former athletes smoke less, drink less alcohol and have a healthier diet. And they also become more physically active, they continue to exercise, which is linked to a longer life: there are no doubts about the health benefits of an active life: moderate to high levels of cardiorespiratory fitness produce a prognostic very favorable on the overall risk of disease and death. And that includes people with diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and cancer.”


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