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Men Are Closing the Life Expectancy Gap... Here's Why

Men Are Closing the Life Expectancy Gap... Here's Why

It’s well-documented and understood that women outlive men by about 5 years. Much research has been done on why, with the results stating everything from females developing more quickly in utero to having stronger social networks as adults. Such factors can make the ladies tougher and healthier, respectively. Scientists even think having a second X chromosome may be key, making women less susceptible to autoimmune diseases and certain viral infections.

Whatever the cause for the longevity gap, life expectancy for U.S. males grew by 4.6 years between 1989 and 2009. Yes, men are closing the gender longevity gap, and in some places even outliving women. Here’s what the fellows are starting to do better, and how you can raise your odds of eluding Father Time.

Healthy Habits Really Matter

In several areas of England, men have recently boosted their life expectancy, outliving women for the first time. Reporter Jo Willy cites that lifestyle changes on the part of women – including less success of giving up smoking and taking on more full-time work – are part of the reason.

It all points to the fact that lifestyle choices have a huge impact. Keep an eye on the following habits:

  • Smoking. According to the CDC, men and women who smoke have a mortality rate that’s three times higher than similar people who never smoked, and tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States. So stay away from cigarettes if you want to plan for an extended retirement—apparently, more men are listening to this advice.
  • Work stress. “Work kills,” says Cary Smith, an integration technician based in San Francisco. “And more women are taking on the role of full-time provider.” Cary is right in that stress from work can make life shorter. The impact varies depending on race, income, and educational level. Demanding jobs with longer hours that provide no medical insurance take a heavy toll on health. Since most people can’t stop working, we must learn how to bounce back from stress with strategies like meditation, laughter, listening to music, and regular exercise.
  • Seeking medical care. Breakthroughs in medicine are a big reason people are living longer, but not everyone takes advantage of medical care. Fewer men have a regular physician than women, and they are more likely than women to skip out on preventative care. But that is changing too. “Men are more willing to see the doctor now,” says Jim Naughton, a company owner in the Bay Area construction trade. Men are also more willing to talk about their health.
  • Taking care of your teeth. Dr. Sharine Thenard, a pediatric dentist for Alameda Pediatric Dentistry, says one simple way to be healthy (and hopefully live longer) is to take care of your mouth, teeth, and gums. “One study has found that the number of teeth older adults have correlates to live expectancy,” Dr. Thenard says. “The results showed that at age 70, those adults that still had 20 or more of their natural teeth had a significantly higher chance of living longer than those adults who had fewer than 20 teeth (a normal adult has 32 teeth).”

Dr. Thenard explains that flossing regularly can lead to a decreased risk for heart disease, as well as inflammation associated with stroke, diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis. There have even been links between periodontal disease and memory loss, as well as Alzheimer's disease.

Where Men Live the Longest

Men are closing the gender gap more significantly in some places than others. New York City saw the biggest life expectancy gains during that time period, with a 13.6-year increase, followed by San Francisco, with an 11.7-year increase.

Here are the top 10 counties for male longevity:

  1. Marin, CA                  81.6 years
  2. Montgomery, MD    81.4
  3. Fairfax, VA                 81.3
  4. Douglas, CO              81.0
  5. Island, WA                 80.9
  6. Los Alamos, NM       80.7
  7. Gunnison, CO           80.7
  8. Pitkin, CO                  80.7
  9. Collier, FL                  80.7
  10. Santa Clara, CA         80.6

The reasons for the positive stats in these areas include more robust anti-smoking ads, restaurants posting calorie counts on menus, and habits like exercise and healthy eating going mainstream.

What Will We Do With Our Extra Years?

Now the strange question: will the extra years of old age be good, quality years? What will we do with our extra time? These are the first questions literacy advocate Bob Kanegis poses. Bob writes a blog about living a “storied life,” and the big question for him was how to participate and be engaged in life with those added years.

“Will I have my vision, hearing, mental acuity, etc.?  I don't think that living longer simply to prolong life is inherently a good thing.”

Many people feel that growing older places limitations on their ability to “start all over again.” Bob states that gaining ten more years would give him a boost in confidence to try or start something new, knowing he would have the time to learn and develop it.

However, Bob believes the biggest benefit to living longer would be to satisfy the curiosity about what will happen next for humanity, the planet, his grandchildren and great grandchildren. “It would mean 10 more years for humanity to get it together, and I’d get to witness it.”

title image by David Hodgson

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