Early-life physical performance predicts the aging and death of elite athletes.
Athleticism and the mortality rates begin a lifelong trajectory of decline during early adulthood. Because of the substantial follow-up time required, however, observing any longitudinal link between early-life physical declines and late-life mortality and aging remains largely inaccessible. Here, we use longitudinal data on elite athletes to reveal how early-life athletic performance predicts late-life mortality and aging in healthy male populations. Using data on over 10,000 baseball and basketball players, we calculate age at peak athleticism and rates of decline in athletic performance to predict late-life mortality patterns. Predictive capacity of these variables persists for decades after retirement, displays large effect sizes, and is independent of birth month, cohort, body mass index, and height. Furthermore, a nonparametric cohort-matching approach suggests that these mortality rate differences are associated with differential aging rates, not just extrinsic mortality. These results highlight the capacity of athletic data to predict late-life mortality, even across periods of substantial social and medical change.