July 30, 2019

Baseball Players Lead in Longevity

MLB players tend to live longer than the rest of us. Early fitness and ongoing exercise and diet discipline may be the reason.

What parent of a budding young shortstop doesn't dream of seeing them play in the major leagues? Well, those who do make it to the big leagues seem to live longer, according to a new study.

Researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Harvard Medical School found the mortality rate for Major League Baseball players is only 76 percent of that expected for other U.S. men. In other words, considerably fewer baseball players are dying year-to-year than would be expected for typical American males of the same age. Both the study and a commentary published with it in JAMA Internal Medicine offer several suggestions as to why baseball players live longer than other men.

Not only do the major league players have a lower overall death rate, they also have a lower death rate from the four leading causes of death in the United States today.

Only players who died between 1979 and 2013 were included in the study. So while the research doesn't focus on Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth or most of their contemporaries, it does include Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and many of the players who followed them. The authors speculate that this difference in mortality isn't specific to baseball, but to the lifestyle of the players. The added life span may stem from players being in good physical condition, maintaining a proper weight, eating well and exercising, as well as having access to good medical care, both while playing and after retirement.

Baseball fans whose thoughts turn to Bartolo Colon or Prince Fielder might wonder about some of this. But those two players' hefty physiques tend to be the exception rather than the rule. Not only do the major league players have a lower overall death rate, they also have a lower death rate from the four leading causes of death in the United States today, which are headed by heart disease and cancer. So they're probably doing something right.

The commentary suggests that the study findings are one more example of the health benefits of physical activity and routine exercise.

In contrast to what has been reported in studies of American football players, the baseball players showed no increase in deaths from neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease, when compared to other U.S. men. Some of this is likely due to the average football player receiving considerably more head impacts than the average baseball player does.

A study published earlier this year that compared baseball players to American football players identified several major health differences between them. Compared to Major League Baseball players, National Football League players had 26 percent higher overall mortality, double the cardiovascular disease mortality and three times the mortality from neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

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