Longevity is a concept that is frequently considered in a number of sports contexts. In its strictest sense, longevity refers to a long biological life. In the usual athletic expressions, longevity is an aspect in the assessment of an athletic career, where a durable competitor demonstrates an ability to play a sport or to take part in an athletic activity over an extended period of time.

Longevity often engages a number of related concepts; it is a state that is often best understood when it is contrasted with other sports science descriptions. Health is a broad expression of the physical state that usually is a precondition for longevity to exist. Longevity in the pursuit of a sport will include good health as a long-term proposition. Fitness also is a physical state with wide-ranging implications for an athlete, as the maintenance of optimal physical condition, for either the support of healthy living practices or to achieve a competitive edge is also a long-term project. By contrast, poor fitness and athletic longevity are incompatible.

Life expectancy is defined by a scientific calculation of the anticipated length of an individual life, based on a range of empirical factors, including genetic background, environmental factors, exposure to disease, and nutrition. Life expectancy implies a sense of certainty that a certain age will be achieved by an individual; longevity is an achievement of a longer than statistically probable life expectancy. Athletic careers can be assessed by the same standard; in American football, where the average career is slightly greater than three years, due primarily to the risk of debilitating injury, a playing career of 10 seasons is one of longevity.

Quality of life is another concept often factored into considerations of both life expectancy and longevity; taken together, the three expressions create a comprehensive goal for many people: the utopia of a long, happy, and healthy life. Sports participation will invariably present the same goals, activity that is rewarding, long lasting, and injury free. Wellness is a modern, overarching concept that includes quality of life, and total health, encompassing the mind, body, and spirit.

There are two further specific physical factors that bear upon the concept of longevity. An athlete who has enjoyed a lengthy career will have been injury-free for most of the period, or alternatively able to recover quickly from injuries as they occurred. The genetics of the individual often impact

Longevity can often be achieved by general good health, nutrition, and exercise throughout life.
upon the likelihood of injury as well as the speed with which the athlete can recover.

There are a number of well-established factors that contribute to the longevity of an athletic career; each is of the same relative importance to the pursuit of longevity. First, proper diet is extremely important. The consumption of healthy foods, with the nutrients and other building blocks of growth, body maintenance and performance cannot be compensated for in any other fashion. In addition. Next is total fitness. The athlete who is active for a long career will engage in comprehensive fitness practices, with an emphasis on balance achieved through training that develops all around flexibility, strength, and endurance. Also, the maintenance of good overall health, avoiding fluctuations in body weight, and periods of physical inactivity. Finally, mental freshness. The athlete who achieves longevity in their career is able to maintain a freshness or spark in their approach to sports.

Longevity is not always the preserve of the successful professional athlete. Many people train and compete in anonymity, in the pursuit of entirely personal athletic goals. The longevity of these performers in an ever-increasing number of sports is reflected in the world wide proliferation of Masters' competitions, which are generally defined as events for athletes aged 40 years and older, with discrete age divisions in progressive increments of five years.

Notable examples of athletes who achieved longevity in their athletic careers include George Blanda, a successful National Football League (NFL) quarterback and placekicker for over 20 seasons, in a sport where a long career is ten years; Gordie Howe, a successful professional ice hockey player for 30 seasons; Sir Garfield Sobers, world class competitor and record holder in international test cricket for 21 years; Michael Jordan, who maintained superlative skills as an National Basketball Association (NBA) player through age 40; and Ron Hill, the English marathoner who was first to break the two hour, 10 minute barrier in that event, who maintained a record of never missing a day training in over 30 years. Each of these athletes shares a number of common attributes despite being competitors in diverse sports: good health, a zest for their game or pursuit, and an ability to maintain a high skill level over an exceptionally competitive period.

SEE ALSO Endurance; Fitness; Health.