LOS ANGELES – Athletes who win at the Olympics may bring home more than just a medal: They could add a few years to their life spans, scientists have found.

Winners of a gold (or silver or bronze) medal lived almost three years longer on average than their country’s general population – when matched for age, gender and birth year – according to a study released Thursday by the journal BMJ that examined some 15,174 Olympic medalists.

The research follows an earlier, controversial report of an “Oscar bump” that found that actors who had won Academy Awards for leading or supporting roles from 1929 onward lived an average of 3.9 years longer. Scientists have wondered for years whether success somehow contributes to longevity. The new study examined decades’ worth of data gathered by an organization of Olympics enthusiasts that encompassed Olympic medalists from nine countries or groups of countries including the United States, Canada, Germany, Russia, France and a group of Nordic countries, from the first modern Games in 1896 up to 2010.

Births and deaths of the athletes were compared with “life tables” of the overall population from their own countries.

After 30 years, 8 percent more Olympic winners were alive on average than members of the general population, translating to an average gain of 2.8 years of life, said study co-author David Studdert, a public health professor at the University of Melbourne in Parkville, Australia.