Longevity Gap Between the Genders Widens

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

The longstanding longevity gap between American males and females has widened to 5.9 years, the biggest discrepancy between the genders in 25 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The current life expectancy at birth for American males is 73.5 years; for females, it is 79.3 years, according to the CDC.

Part of the reason why women live longer is that the types of employment ranked most dangerous tend to be male-dominated ones.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the most dangerous jobs in order as: tree trimmers and pruners; commercial pilots (not including passenger plane pilots); farm and ranch animal workers; loggers; roofers; first-line supervisors of farming, fishing and forestry workers; agricultural equipment operators; heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers; underground mining machine operators; and farm equipment mechanics and service technicians.

These all employ many more men than women. But at any age, males are more likely to die than females, so it’s not only job-related.

The entire reason why women live even longer remains unclear. However, adopting a few healthful strategies can increase men’s chances of healthy longevity.

“A healthy lifestyle can improve overall health and wellbeing, reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, and promote longevity,” said Ying Wang, Ph.D., senior principal scientist for the American Cancer Society.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “cancer was the second leading cause of death, after heart disease, in the United States in 2020. In 2020, there were 602,350 cancer deaths; 284,619 were among females and 317,731 among males.”

One key component of lowering cancer risk is exercise. Most men of healthy weight should engage in a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. Men who are overweight may need more. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers more information on fitness at www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/index.html and www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/older_adults/index.htm.

Seeking proper healthcare and preventative care could also help more men increase their longevity instead of “toughing it out” when sick or hurt or in emotional distress. Typically, women use healthcare earlier and more frequently. That extends to mental healthcare as well, since the stigma for doing so is often higher for men. Women also tend to find better means of improving mental health such as yoga, meditation and supportive relationships. Forming close friendships with other men and forging tighter family bonds can also help improve mental health.

Women typically oversee the family’s healthcare, shuttling children to the doctor’s office, where they can learn more about health, including eating right. Men often miss learning about healthful eating.

“The key to longevity is to eat a variety of foods and to include more plant-based foods regularly,” said Jane Burrell, registered nurse and associate teaching professor at Syracuse University. “This doesn’t mean you have to be vegetarian but consider substituting plant-based foods like beans, lentils, tofu, nuts and seeds for meats on occasion.”

For example, make chili with beans but not beef. Or eat more meatless meals and snacks per week than ones that include meat.

“Plant-based proteins are great sources of protein but also contain more healthy fats, more fiber and a bigger variety of vitamins and minerals compared to animal proteins,” Burrell said. “They also contain phytonutrients, or the pigmented part of plants that have added health benefits from their antioxidant compounds. This can reduce the wear and tear of aging and may prevent chronic diseases.”

Increasing the intake of fish and other seafood can positively affect health. Burrell said that these contain omega-3 fats that can help reduce inflammation and blood pressure as well as offer protection against chronic disease.

“Including fruits and vegetables is associated with longevity and a longer ‘healthspan,’ which is years of health,” Burrell said.

She advises “eating the rainbow,” which means including a variety of colorful produce as part of the daily diet, since each contains a different nutrient profile.