We're Living Longer, but Are We Healthier?

A new CDC report reveals that people are living longer, but not necessarily healthier.By: Darria Long Gillespie, MD, MBA

The results from the latest data are in. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Americans on the whole are living longer lives based on 2009 stats (the most recent we have). But not all groups are benefiting as much as others. What does this news mean for you, and what can you do about it?

There's less heart disease, but higher suicide rates.
The increase in life expectancy is felt to be due to decreases in heart disease, cancer, accidental injury, stroke and chronic respiratory disease. These changes aren't surprising, says Keith Roach, MD, Chief Medical Officer of Sharecare and co-creator of the RealAge® Test. "We are getting much better at treating heart disease and cancer, as well as prevention of disease. Lifespans would likely be increasing more rapidly if we could get better control of the obesity epidemic."

Find out the true age of your body! Take the RealAge Test.

The CDC data is also consistent with the findings of the RealAge® Test -- a science-driven health risk assessment individuals take to compare their calendar age with their actual age. "We have seen a general downward trend of blood pressure, cholesterol and smoking, which are three of the most important factors for heart disease," says Dr. Roach.

Unfortunately, the CDC findings also revealed an increase in deaths due to chronic liver disease (often caused either by alcohol, hepatitis or other chronic conditions) or suicide. Here's what else we can learn from the findings:

Women still live longer -- but erase that benefit by smoking.
While life expectancy rose for everyone, the overall length is still longer for females than males. Both white and black women lived longer than men of both white and black races. On average, women of any race live 5 years longer than their male counterparts. Interestingly, in the early 1900s, the difference between men and women's lifespans was as small as TWO years. By the 1970s, it increased to a difference of almost eight years, largely due to the increase in cigarette smoking by men. Since then, the gap has narrowed -- although unfortunately that's in part due to an increase in death from lung cancer in women.

Quit smoking in 10 steps

Race plays a role.
The winners in the life expectancy category by race? The Hispanic population. Hispanic females topped the charts with a life expectancy of 83.5 years, compared to white women (81.2yrs) and black women (77.6 years). The same occurred for Hispanic men, who lived longer than black men and women, and white men.

What about quality of life?
Does this mean that Americans are living longer, healthier lives? Or just living longer with chronic health conditions? It's unclear, since there's no mention of health factors in the data analysis. What we DO know is that the same things that improve longevity also improve your quality of life. "Good exercise is probably number one for improved quality of life," says Dr. Roach. "Stress management. A healthy diet. Strong relationships. Not only do you live longer, you feel younger. And these are all things you can work on today."

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So, good news to start out a new year -- and here's to not just longer, but healthier and happier lives for everyone in 2014!

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