Study: Men Have Higher Risk of Dying During Exercise

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • Do you like to go all out while exercising? Or has it been a while since you’ve seen your physician although you’re an avid exerciser? If you answer “yes” to either of these questions, you may want to just check in with your doctor.

    A new study out of France suggests that men are more at risk for suffering sudden death due to a cardiac event while participating in recreational sports activities.


    Researchers from the Paris Cardiovascular Research Center at the Georges Pompidou European Hospital tracked sports-related deaths among adults in that country between 2005 and 2010.  Those deaths were attributed to cardiac arrest, often due to a preexisting condition. The researchers analyzed this number by sport based on the total number of French men and women who participated in these activities as of the year 2000.

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    People between the ages of 15 and 75 were included in the analysis. The researchers only focused on sports-related sudden deaths that involved moderate and vigorous exertion, most of which were assessed by responding emergency medical technicians (EMTs) who were called to help the athletes. To do an adequate analysis of female deaths, the researchers focused on the three most frequent sports undertaken by women – cycling, jogging and swimming.

    The study identified 775 deaths that were a result of sports during the study period, according to EMTs (51 percent of the cases) and press reports confirmed by emergency medical services (49 percent). Of those, 42 (5 percent) were women. Their analysis determined a rate of one death for every 2 million females who participated in sports each year. In comparison, their analysis found one death per 100,000 males who were participating in recreational athletics. Their analysis indicated that men are 20 times more likely to die from a sudden heart problem while participating in these activities than women.

    The average of sudden death in women was 44 years of age, as compared to 46 years of age in men. Furthermore, the researchers found that the incidence rate of sports-related sudden death actually significantly increases with age among men; this wasn’t true among women.

    And differences in fatalities emerged by sport. The researchers found that five out of every 1 million men who jogged and one per 1 million men who swam died from cardiac arrest. In comparison, there was less than one death for every one million per female participants in both sports.

    Experts hypothesized on why these findings emerged. One hypothesis is that men are more at risk to have coronary artery disease, which involves buildups and blockages in the heart arteries. Another hypothesis is that men tend to get up to full-speed quickly when participating in sports, as opposed to slowly building intensity in their exercise efforts. Other experts suggest that fewer women than men are playing sports.

    While the report on men doesn’t surprise me, I do have questions about the results about women. First of all, I am not a medical doctor or a researcher in this area. However, I do wonder how athletic participation compares between American women and French women. Anecdotally, it seems to me that younger women in American increasingly participate in some sort of recreational athletics. However, I would bet (based on my network of friends) that women get less physical activity when they reach middle age due to increased demands on their time caused by having teenage children, career, grandchildren or aging parents. If they go back to a moderate activity level, these women need to be careful since the menopausal transition is a time when women’s risk of heart disease increases due to body changes, including a decrease in the hormone estrogen. As the American Heart Association notes, approximately 35,000 American women who are under the age of 50 have a heart attack each year; however, an overall increase in heart attacks is seen among women who are 10 years past going through menopause. Again, the French study doesn’t note this, but it may be a factor for older women who get back into the exercise routine.

  • So what does this mean to you? I’d suggest that everyone should talk to your doctor about your individual exercise regimen. Make sure that your body is up for it, especially if you participate in strenuous exercise. Also, be sure to warm up your heart and try to exercise using intervals of intensity so you don’t overstress one of your most important muscles: your heart!

    Primary Sources:

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    American Heart Association. (2013). Menopause and heart disease.
    Fox News. (2013). Sudden death during sports more common among men.
    Marijon, E., et al. (2013). Incidence of sports-related sudden death in France by specific sports and sex. The Journal of the American Medical Association.
    MedlinePlus. (2013). Sudden death during sports more common among men.

Published On: August 14, 2013