Elite competitors live longer, even in chess

The survival rates of GMs at 30 and 60 years since GM title achievement were 87% and 15%, respectively. The life expectancy of GMs at the age of 30 years (which is near the average age when they attained a GM title) was 53.6 ([95% CI]: 47.7–58.5) years, which is significantly greater than the overall weighted mean life expectancy of 45.9 years for the general population. Compared to Eastern Europe, GMs in North America (HR [95% CI]: 0.51 [0.29–0.88]) and Western Europe (HR [95% CI]: 0.53 [0.34–0.83]) had a longer lifespan. The RS analysis showed that both GMs and OMs had a significant survival advantage over the general population, and there was no statistically significant difference in the RS of GMs (RS [95% CI]: 1.14 [1.08–1.20]) compared to OMs: (RS [95% CI]: 1.09 [1.07–1.11]) at 30 years.

Elite chess players live longer than the general population and have a similar survival advantage to elite competitors in physical sports.

That is from An Tran-Duy, David C. Smerdon, and Philip M. Clarke, via a loyal MR reader.


Just to be clear on what is probably going on here, if two people of equal talent, ability, and dedication start their chess careers and one of them has a stronger immune system then that person is going to be healthier, spend less time sick, and be a clearer thinker on average because they spend less time under the weather. So the healthier person who is likely to live longer is also likely to pull ahead in chess ability over time as well.

Plus, going to a tournament where you got the title is a signal that you're not hospitalized.

While this is true, the size of this effect is likely to be tiny. The hospitalization rate of the population is very low, so the chess advantage a player gets from being healthy and less hospitalized than average is almost certainly too small to even show up in the analysis.

It's more likely that being an elite chess player is associated with various behavioral and sociodemographic factors that are also associated with increased life span.

One particular factor that comes to mind is discipline. It takes a lot of discipline to be an elite chess player, and this discipline may also lead people to live healthier lifestyles.

Yes, but it's not just hospitalization, it's general health as well. And of course there is always the question of socio-economic status and, as others have mentioned, good health habits.

How many chess GM's are alcoholics?

Chess players are physically fit so they live long lives.

It is the groupies. Being chased by beautiful young women besotted by their fame and reputation keeps chess masters at the peak physical condition.

I think it is more due to concentration. They have to stare so intently at the board they don't have time to think, "Hey, I wonder what's in the fridge?"

it could work both ways.
People who are more successful tend to be happier and have less stress, happiness and lower stress levels leads to better health outcomes.
(Notwithstanding workaholics and type-As who lead high stress lives in spite of being very successfull.)

0 Longevity is a function of just general health and generally good bodily function
1 Intelligence is highly polygenic, meaning that our intelligence is determined by many genes in small ways
2 The genes that make people smarter also effect most every other bodily function
3 The genes that make people smarter also improve general health
4 The genes that make people smarter also improve longevity

Whats the best evidence that refutes this theory?

Bobby Fischer?

OK, not especially, but Fischer was a truly brilliant player who pretty much does not fit the above schema.

I basically buy most of HBD-person's explanation, but for Fischer I would add that men have high variability, a large standard deviation in most traits, and thus somewhat savantish, autistic characteristics can mix with the more positive aspects of intelligence.

The link between IQ and longevity seems pretty much settled science;

But whether this is due to smarter people simply having better habits and following doctors advice, or whether it is due to better genes overall is still up for debate. My guess is that good habits matter a lot, we see nuns, who need not necessarily be intelligent, living longer than other women for instance.

Nuns have the best habits.

Monks have good habits, too.


Of course, with two 10-minute meals per day, even though they're living a long time, they probably wish they were dead. ;-)

If nuns live longer due to good habits, do good wimples also promote longevity?

I think you just dont know if nuns are smarter than average, so you are assuming they are as smart as the rest of us. Thats not justified at all. We already know that people who live a long time are generally smarter so that reasonable expectation is that they are smarter. This is before considering that that nuns live disciplined scholarly lives, which undoubtedly requires personality traits associated with intelligence.

Isn't there already a lot of research on how higher C & G is associated with people living longer?

So if they compared to genpop and didn't adjust for C & G what new information is in this study? Was the mechanism for elite sports not assumed to be C & G but instead some idea that they have healthier bodies?

Just to be clear to the rest of you that have low IQ's, C & G refers to: "Cow & Gate is a United Kingdom based dairy products company, which expanded into milk bottling, distribution, and baby food production. It merged in 1959 with United Dairies to form Unigate plc, which today is known as Uniq plc. The Cow & Gate brand survives as a specialist baby food brand, owned by Netherlands-based Numico."

Bonus trivia: there's a paper that equates being a chess master with high IQ, not clear how valid it is, but that would be a confounding factor in this study if true.

Chess GM's aren't a random smart guy sample of the population. Their rich people who take private lessons from a young age and fly all over the country playing in tournaments. Good for them though! Keep playing!

Actually no, they are generally not wealthy unless in the very top ten or so. If you aren't in the top 100 it's a real struggle to make a living, there are many GM's who give up playing and turn to coaching or something else entirely.

The claim was that chess players come from the upper class, not that they get rich playing chess. (How true that is, I don't know).

I don't think this implies that being a GM causes you to live longer (not that TC or the authors claimed this). I think it's more likely that people who become GMs, because of their superior mental and physical health, come from a group of people who were already likely to live longer.

Since 1980, health care spending in the U.S. has been going up and life expectancy in the U.S. has been going down relative to spending and life expectancy in other advanced countries. One explanation is that lower income is associated with poorer health, and except for the richest Americans, incomes in the U.S. have stagnated since 1980. Thus, comparing successful people (such as GMs and chess elites) to the general population necessarily will reveal life expectancy advantages for successful people. Here is the link to an article by Austin Frackt on the medical mystery in the U.S. of rising spending on health care and falling life expectancy as compared to other advanced countries beginning in the 1980s: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/14/upshot/medical-mystery-health-spending-1980.html What I've noticed is a general reluctance by many to attribute anything negative to the 1980s, including stagnant wages, rising inequality, and falling life expectancy. Why is that? Maybe the dilemma could be solved if more Americans played chess.

"What I've noticed is a general reluctance by many to attribute anything negative to the 1980s"
Criticism of Saint Ronald the Magnificent, explicit or implied, is not allowed!

Re: the post topic. It verifies the adage, "Only the good die young."

List your beefs with Reagan. Make my day.

I'm old enough to remember the 1980's. A lot of the fathers and mothers of the white leftists said/wrote similar slanders/libels about Reagan as today about Trump.

The 1980's been berry berry good to me.

"Elite competitors live longer, even in chess."

I'll bet elite football players don't live longer.

Let me know if you find any takers. I'd like to get in on your action.

I suspect the survival advantage of elite athletes depends heavily on the particular sport.

Some will. DBs, receivers, and perhaps even punters. But not linemen. Body mass is a thing.

Oops! Well, good for them (pro football players).


That is a surprising result. The one thing that I question is that the study was for players who played five years any time between 1959 and 1988. Players are a lot bigger today. According to this the average lineman in 2015 was 6-5, 312 lbs. In the 1970's the average was 6-3, 255.

That difference matters, both for the health of the player and the amount of damage he can do to other players.

Also, the study seems a bit overweighted towards what the authors call Category I positions - QB, kickers of various types, and DB's. There were a smidge more player in this group than in category III - offensive and defensive linemen. That doesn't seem right, and the linemen had the highest mortality by far.

Yes, I was thinking of an NFL squad as having a lot of poor offensive and defensive linemen.

But I was also thinking of people like Aaron Hernandez...and Rob Gronkowski. (Obviously, Rob Gronkowski is still very much alive, but I hope he'll change his mind about playing in 2018.)

CTE in Aaron Hernandez

As others have mentioned, they're mistaking correlation for causality.

Some have mentioned the importance of general health. I think it can also be mental stamina. Either way, it's likely that there's a common link. I would like to see a randomized trial, and have it include mental health outcomes too.

Elite chess players live longer than the general population and have a similar survival advantage to elite competitors in physical sports does not represent standard English. Rewritten in English, it would read, "Elite chess players live longer than persons in the general population and have a survival advantage similar to that of elite competitors in physical sports."

What Socioeconomic Status do chessplayers usually come from, especially those who become Grandmasters, who could afford to spend thousands of hours, potentially even have coaching and strategy sessions, on a hobby with very little if any financial reward for decades?

Isn't this all just a proxy for wealth?

Nobel prize winners also live much longer than the average lifespan: Solow is alive and he is 93, Hayek made to 92, Friedman made to 94, Arrow made to 95, Coase made past 102. Overall, smart people tend to live longer I guess because they usually have better understanding of what is a healthy diet and lifestyle.

Here is the information I'm looking for

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