Professional bodybuilding has its origins in optimizing health, but has been under scrutiny due to the seemingly common premature death of elite competitors. However, there is limited research investigating these claims.
PURPOSE: To determine the average life expectancy of elite professional bodybuilders and determine what factors may influence this.
METHODS: All competitors who participated in any pro International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness events from 1965-1985 were identified using the MuscleMemory.com database. Date of birth, date of death (if applicable), height, stage weight, date elite career began, and length of elite career were collected. Additional data, including steroid usage history, were collected via online sources including news articles, biographical interviews, public forums, blogs, and personal interviews. Kaplan-Meier survival analysis was used to compute the median lifespan of bodybuilders and Cox regression with bootstrapping was used to determine if any of the covariates collected influenced lifespan.
RESULTS: 171 competitors met the inclusion criteria, of those, 106 had sufficient biographical information to be included in the analysis. Of those, 42 were deceased as of May 1, 2020, with a median age of death of 64y. Survival analysis revealed the median life expectancy was 78y [95% CI = 72-85y], with ~10% mortality by 45y and 30% mortality by 65y. Confirmed steroid use was identified for 37 bodybuilders but was not related to mortality (p = 0.386). Body mass index (BMI) was significantly associated with increased mortality [Exp(B) = 1.15; 95% CI = 1.00-1.32; p = 0.043].
CONCLUSION: Despite reports of early death, elite male bodybuilders have a similar lifespan to the average population. Steroid use in elite bodybuilders does not appear affect lifespan, raising questions regarding their long-term effects on health. More research is warranted to examine the relationship between BMI and mortality in bodybuilders.