The precocity-longevity hypothesis re-examined: does career start age in Canadian national hockey league players influence length of lifespan?

Author:Lemez, Srdjan
Position:Letter to the editor
 
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Dear Editor-in-chief

Available data on elite athletes suggests they have longer lifespans than the general population (Teramoto and Bungum, 2010); however, this relationship is likely more nuanced than previously considered. For example, the precocity-longevity hypothesis proposed by McCann (2001) asserts that factors related to early career achievement (e.g., debut age) may cultivate early death. Two mechanisms, stress and personality type (e.g., McCann, 2001), have been the predominant explanations because of their purported association with disease states. To date, only Abel and Kruger (2007) have examined this hypothesis in sport, concluding that every year a Major League Baseball player debuted before the mean age of 23.6 years was associated with a decreased lifespan of 0.24 years. Little is known about the extent of this phenomenon among different athlete populations.

This study explored the precocity-longevity hypothesis among Canadian-born National Hockey League (NHL) players. Based on the link between high career achievement and early mortality identified in previous research, we hypothesized that precocious NHL players would have shorter lifespans than those debuting at later ages. There have been 4,583 Canadian-born NHL players who debuted between 1917 and 2010 (Quant Hockey, 2014); however, we only analyzed those who debuted between 1917 and 1986 (n = 2, 971) to limit the influence of players who were still living (i.e., censored cases). Additionally, we restricted our sample to Canadian players to limit the influence of different developmental systems and socio-cultural factors that might affect longevity. Data were collected through the official website of the hockey hall of fame (wwwhhof.com), and a random sample (~10%) was cross-referenced within Total Hockey (Diamond et al., 1998) and wwwhockey-reference.com which confirmed complete agreement.

Kaplan-Meier and Cox regression survival analyses were used. Hazard ratios (HR) considered whether the predictor variable (debut age in the NHL) significantly influenced the event (age at death), while controlling for the potential confounders of position (i.e., Center, Wing, Defense, or Goalie) and years played. To limit the effect of statistical artifacts (see McCann, 2001), we excluded players who died within five years of debut and players whose date of death was unknown (~40 cases). All data were evaluated at the p [less than or equal to] .05 level of significance (95%...

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