An investigation from Harvard published in July (2019) found that major league baseball players live about 24 percent longer, on average, than other American men. It also showed that baseball players have a lower death rate from heart problems, as well as Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases, than professional football players probably because they have fewer head injuries. Other research has shown that compared with professional baseball players, football players had nearly three times the death rate from neurological diseases. To arrive at these conclusions, researchers analyzed information about 10,451 baseball players who died between 1979 and 2013.
The report found that while baseball players with long careers had lower rates of heart disease, they had higher than normal rates of death from lung and skin cancers. Primary researcher Marc G. Weisskopf, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said that “we could suspect sun exposure or tobacco for those cancers, but they also had higher rates of blood cancers, which is surprising.” Possibly, those were related to exposures to chemicals used to treat baseball fields.
The investigation also found that causes of death differed depending on players’ positions. Shortstops and second basemen had lower rates of death from disease compared to pitchers while outfielders were less likely to die of injuries. Dr. Weisskopf noted that professional athletes are much healthier than average men to begin with and have to doa “lot of healthy things …to maintain that level of professional play.”
Overall, the report concluded that, compared to average American men, major league players had 20 percent lower rates of death from cancer, 19 percent lower from heart disease and stroke, 33 percent lower from respiratory disease, 46 percent lower from diabetes, and 59 percent lower from suicide.
The analysis isn’t the first to show that professional baseball players live longer than the average man. One report, published in 2006, found that on average the players lived 4.1 years longer and that those whose careers lasted 11 years or more lived 7.4 years longer. Another study published in 2008 found that major league players have longer life expectancies than the general male population because of their high physical activity and overall health, favorable heights and weights, low smoking rates and access to high-quality health care during and after their careers. For the record, the average life expectancy for American men is 76.1 years. (It’s 81.1 for women.)
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Marc G. Weisskopf et al, “All-Cause and Cause-Specific Mortality Among Major League Baseball Players.” JAMA Internal Medicine, July 22, 2019, doi: 10.1001 jamaianternmed.2019.1218