The secret to a long life? Race the Tour de France

New study finds pro racers live 17 percent longer than average

While it's long been accepted that moderate exercise is the key to living a long, healthy life, there's still debate over the long-terms effects of more strenuous activities and the strains of competing at a professional level.

So, a new study published in the International Journal of Sports Medicine makes interesting reading. Researchers looked at a group of athletes who are put through the physiological wringer for three weeks every July – Tour de France riders – and found that the average age they lived too was significantly higher (17 percent) than that of the general population.

The study's authors examined the longevity of 834 cyclists from France, Italy and Belgium who rode the Tour between 1930 and 1964, and found that the average age at which they died was 81.5, compared to 73.5 for the general population. So, does that mean you can exercise without the fear that pushing your body to its limits may have a negative effect on your immediate or long-term health? Not necessarily.

The study doesn't reveal why the pro cyclists lived so long. A longer lifespan might be because of the training itself or the result of the lifestyle choices (good diet, no alcohol) these athletes made in getting them to the top of their sport. And what of the effect of intense exercise on those not used to it? It's a complex issue, but it's comforting to know that while it may hurt at the time, pushing yourself to your limits may not be as harmful as it's sometimes been suggested.

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