News items Health benefits of mass sporting events outweigh the potential acute risk of death

14 February 2024

Reports of athletes suddenly dying during a major sporting event, for example due to cardiac arrest, leave a lasting impression. However, the likelihood of death is incredibly small, and recreational athletes actually face thirty percent less risk of premature death in the years following the event compared to the general population. This health gain is greater for cyclists and runners than for walkers.

Occasionally, there are reports of seemingly top-fit athletes dying suddenly during a major sporting event such as a cycling race or marathon. This is not a reason to refrain from participating in such mass sporting events, say researchers from Radboud university medical center. They calculated that 0.0042% of participants died during or in the week after the sports event, which is statistically not more often than during regular training weeks. Additionally, athletes face thirty percent less risk of premature death in the years following the event compared to the general population. The health benefits are thus greater than the potential risks.


The researchers base their conclusions on an analysis of data from over 750,000 people over a period of almost twenty years. They looked at mass sporting events for runners, cyclists, and walkers. For the long-term health effects, they followed recreational athletes for on average of more than three years after the sporting event and compared them to the general population.

In the years following participation in a sports event, the risk of premature mortality decreased for all recreational athletes. This effect was greater for runners (-35%) and cyclists (-30%) than for walkers (-12%). ‘This is likely related to the intensity of the effort and someone’s fitness, with greater health benefits seen in sports with higher intensity’, says researcher Esmée Bakker, first author of the study. ‘But participating in sport is healthy in any case, including walking.’

About the publication

This study is published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine: All-cause mortality risks among participants in mass participation sporting events. Esmée A Bakker, Vincent L. Aengevaeren, Duck-Chul Lee, Paul D Thompson, Thijs M.H. Eijsvogels.

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Annemarie Eek


Pauline Dekhuijzen

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