Cris LaBossiere

Cris LaBossiere
Strength training and mountain biking. My two favorites

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Obesity rates and life expectancy increase

Life expectancy has been increasing since about the 1400's when the average life expectancy was around 40 years.  Historically sanitation and medicine are two of the largest improvements that have increased human life span.

With medical advancements in treating cancer and other serious diseases, people are beating the odds or living longer with disease due to improvements in early detection and treatment regimens.

We've been hearing for the last two decades that we're becoming too overweight and out of shape, which will reduce our quality of life and ultimately shorten our lives.

It's true that being overweight and physically unfit increases your risk of developing illnesses that can reduce your life span, and it's true that every year more of the population is overweight and out of shape.

Despite this, life expectancy for the population as a whole continues to increase due to mostly to medical advancements, up to 2008.

For the first time since 1993, life expectancy in the US dropped by a couple months in the US, according to this press release from the CDC (average life expectancy was 77.8 in 2008 in the US):

CDC Media Relations - Press Release: December 9, 2010

In canada it looks like this:

So what does all this mean?  Not much to any individual.  Just a bunch of numbers. That's the problem with population averages; the average does not explain each individuals circumstances.  Those who smoke and drink daily and are overweight are less likely to see the endpoint of these life expectancy predictions or averages.

In reading reports on life expectancy I found that statisticians and medical researchers reported they don't always have precise explanations for fluctuations in trends. Some of the year to year changes are due to how data is collected and processed.  In general researchers are still predicting a drop in life expectancy if we continue to become more overweight and out of shape, but increases in medical care may offset this.

Being overweight as a population may compensate for the impact smoking had on our population; fewer people smoke now compared to the 40's through 60's so death rates due to smoking related illness is down, but more people are overweight so death rates due to complications from obesity are on the rise.

Let's make this practical.

Out of all I read on the subject here are the things that take years off your life:

  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol 
  • Poor diet
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Physical inactivity
  • Parents or grandparents died young from cancer or heart disease
  • High stress
  • Being bitter and angry most of the time
  • Limited access to health care/ not getting regular medical check ups after age 40

Here are the things that add years to your life:

  • Maintaining healthy body weight
  • Daily exercise
  • Good nutrition. Specifically, eating less
  • Good sleep
  • Low stress
  • Having a positive outlook
  • Close friends and family
  • Access to healthcare over entire life

For smokers, the most significant improvement to health and life expectancy comes from quitting smoking.

An important detail; the last 20 years of your life are much higher quality, retaining a higher level of physical mobility, cognition, and fewer health complications, when you do the things in the second list.

That sounds pretty good!  Live healthy, and love it :-)

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