Sport (even extreme) is health

Last Wednesday we published a articulo collected from the newspaper el mundo, stating that in the long run endurance sports are harmful to health in 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, there is at least one of which they can really be proud, the realization that, in fact, his is a job from the past, an old sport, slow and slow to develop, anachronistic in this cyber-globalized era.


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 marathoner and cross-country skier, or any endurance athlete) that it is more similar to that of the Palaeolithic human being, that is, the way of life that our organism continues to consider the ideal.

Strenuous resistance exercise increases life expectancy: we carry it in the genes.

For centuries, the popular belief has been that competitive sport was bad for health and reduced life expectancy. And even the athletes accused of doping, such as the athlete Marta Domínguez recently, affirm from the outset, to justify a possible doping drift, that running like 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 those who participated in high sports competition in their youth will live longer, and the more resistance the specialty, the more so.

"Genetically, the inhabitants of the XNUMXst century are still Paleolithic citizens, so those who lead a more active lifestyle will live longer," says Alejandro Lucía, professor of Physiology at the European University of Madrid. "They will suffer less risk of chronic diseases, as endurance athletes prove."

To affirm this, Lucía relies on a recent publication in the British Journal of Sports Medicine from a 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 period, the hunter-gatherer human being spent the day running, in movement, and had a daily energy expenditure of more than 3.000 calories and their dietary 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. "Meanwhile, in today's sedentary society, our average spending is only 38% compared to the Palaeolithic, and we continue to consume 3.000, which makes obesity unavoidable."

“It is said that elite sport is not healthy, but what is the scientific evidence that supports such a claim? Do elite athletes live less? ”Asks José Antonio López Calbet, a physiologist at the University of Las Palmas. “The published data seem to indicate that elite athletes who have practiced endurance tests live one to four years longer than people of comparable age and similar birthplace. In contrast, athletes who practice power sports (pitchers, 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? Seniors who were elite athletes in endurance disciplines are at higher risk for atrial fibrillation (a type of arrhythmia). In any case, it is much more dangerous for health and quality of life not to do sports than to practice an hour of exercise every day.

In the Paleolithic, our genetic footprint was modeled, 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 expend up to 6.000 or 8.000 calories," says Lucia. "No matter how much I eat, it is very difficult, of course, for me to recover what was spent, so they end the Tour on the 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 runner on the Tour 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 like a poplar, healthy as a bull, leading a full life in every way at 82, but on a comparative demographic analysis between the lives and deaths of 834 French, Belgian and Italian riders born between 1892 and 1942 and who completed at least one Tour between 1930 and 1964, and the general population of those countries.

The result is spectacular. While the survival rate of the general population is 50% at 73,5 years, almost 70% of Tour participants were still alive at that age, and the rate of 50% reached it at 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 hovering around the 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 years). The dean of the 19 surviving postwar winners is the Swiss Ferdi Kubler, winner of the 1951 Tour, who is 91 years old; They are followed by the French Roger Walkowiak (Tour of 56), with 83 years, and Bahamontes with 82.

“And perhaps because of those 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 Tour riders experience between 1930 and 1964. The curve shows that Tour runners 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 sports, the consideration that the exercise that led the body to explore the frontiers of resistance, was detrimental to health, is not a matter of now, although for some unscrupulous specialists it has been precisely that concept the one that allowed them to justify the use of doping as a medication to help the body recover after reaching exhaustion

As the study by Ruiz and Lucía recalls, Hippocrates, in ancient times, 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 reach old age ”. And, even in 1968, a study reflected as surprising and negative fact that all the rowers on the Harvard University team of 1948 had died.

But the studies proving the opposite, and not only that of the Valencian university with the Tour riders, have fallen like an avalanche. One of them shows that rowers from Oxford and Cambridge live longer than non-rowers in the same classrooms (which eliminates, incidentally, 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 those from Yale, and the Japanese university students who participated in sports competitions and the sports champions of Denmark, and the non-Maori of 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 evidence 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 endurance athletes (elite marathoners, 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 disease (although, the study was limited to only 33 polymorphisms). “Indeed, there is no evidence that the best endurance athletes in the world are genetically predisposed to have fewer diseases. Thus, the association between life expectancy and the practice of cross-country 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 ex-athletes smoke less, drink less alcohol and have a healthier diet. And they are also physically more active, they continue to exercise, which is linked to a longer life: there is no doubt about the health benefits of an active life: moderate to high levels of cardiorespiratory fitness produce a prognosis. very favorable about the overall risk of illness and death. And that includes people with diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cancer.


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