Early and extraordinary peaks in physical performance come with a longevity cost

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Life history theory postulates a trade-off between development and maintenance. This trade-off is observed when comparing life histories of different animal species. In humans, however, it is debated if variation in longevity is explained by differences in developmental traits. Observational studies found a trade-off between early and high fecundity and longevity in women. Development encompasses more than fecundity and also concerns growth and physical performance. Here, we show a life history trade-off between early and above average physical performance and longevity in male Olympic athletes. Athletes who peaked at an earlier age showed 17-percent increased mortality rates (95% CI 8-26% per SD, p≤0.001) and athletes who ranked higher showed 11-percent increased mortality rates (95% CI 1-22% per SD, p=0.025). Male athletes who had both an early and extraordinary peak performance suffered a 4.7-year longevity cost. (95% CI 2.1-7.5 years, p=0.001). This is the first time a life history trade-off between physical performance and longevity has been found in humans. This finding deepens our understanding of early developmental influences on the variation of longevity in humans.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number8
Pages (from-to)1822-1829
Number of pages8
Publication statusPublished - 19 Aug 2016

    Research areas

  • Journal Article

ID: 166166352