AMSTERDAM - French riders in the Tour de France live an average of six years longer than the general population and die less often of cardiovascular problems, researchers said, which may help ease worries about the effect of extreme exercise on the heart.
The research also offered limited assurance that doping was unlikely to pose a major heart health risk, at least in the short term, since any major adverse impact would have skewed the results. Illicit use of the blood-boosting drug EPO, or erythropoietin, has been rampant in competitive cycling since the 1990s.
The study presented at the European Society of Cardiology congress on Tuesday examined all 786 French competitors in the gruelling bicycle race from 1947 to 2012, and found their death rate was 41 per cent lower than average for French males as of last September.
Dr. Xavier Jouven of the European Georges Pompidou Hospital in Paris, who led the analysis, said the mortality reduction was"huge" and the result suggested that doctors should be more assertive in championing vigorous exercise.
"We should encourage people to exert themselves," he said."If there was a real danger in doing high-level exercise then we should have observed it in this study."
Riders in the Tour de France - which has been compared to running a marathon several days a week for nearly three weeks - actually had a 33 per cent lower risk for death from heart attacks or strokes than the general population.