BRISBANE, Australia — Think your favorite comic book superhero is invincible? Think again. A study of superheroes and their lifestyles shows many of them will suffer from chronic health conditions in old age.
Researchers in Australia conclude that, in the real world, these powerful characters are more prone to dementia, life-changing physical injuries, and disability because of their exposure to loud noises, air pollution, and head injuries.
For example, The Incredible Hulk’s heart problems, excess weight, and near-constant anger means he is at risk from a range of chronic diseases. Meanwhile, Black Widow’s traumatic childhood means she is more likely to become physically and mentally ill later in life.
Spider-man, who is strong, flexible, and agile, should be less likely to fall when he is old. However, his nightly crime fighting means he is unlikely to be getting the eight to ten hours sleep experts recommend for teenagers — making Marvel’s famous webslinger more prone to mental health problems, obesity, and unintentional injuries.
Superheroes have great social lives at least!
It’s not all bad news for the world’s greatest heroes, according to the Australian academics who reviewed 24 Marvel films released between 2008 and 2021. They found superheroes get regular exercise, which is good for their long-term health. They also live in places which are socially cohesive and connected, which reduces their risk of dementia.
Superheroes are also positive, optimistic, resilient, and have a sense of purpose, all of which have a scientific link to healthy aging. With the exception of Thor and Iron Man, these characters do not drink heavily or smoke, which helps them live longer as well.
Additionally, both Black Panther and Iron Man are very rich and clever, which reduces their risk of dementia. Black Panther is also vegetarian, which helps keep wrinkles at bay.
What does this mean for an ordinary, non-cape-wearing citizen?
The conclusion is, like the average person, superheroes need to exercise regularly and have strong friendships and relationships if they are going to age well. The researchers say analyzing the factors that put superheroes in Marvel films at risk of aging helps us better understand what may be putting us at risk of aging as well as what we can do to slow it down.
They assumed that (with the exception of Thor, who has lived for several millennia) the speed at which superheroes age is dependent upon their personal characteristics — just as it is in mere mortals.
“To date, the Marvel superheroes’ combined efforts focus on matters such as on maintaining the safety of the multiverse, the modulation of human consciousness, the creation of artificial intelligence, and the development of technology to facilitate space travel,” says study co-author Professor Ruth Hubbard, the Masonic Chair of Geriatric Medicine at the University of Queensland, in a media release.
“They should move their focus to dealing with challenges, such as how to provide high quality health and social care across large, aging populations and preventing frailty and dementia,” the study authors write. “This would enable people across the multiverse, including superheroes, to experience high quality of life in older age.”
The findings are published in The BMJ.
South West News Service writer Gwyn Wright contributed to this report.