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Last updated February 13, 2017 (originally published October 1, 2007)
By Susan Callahan, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
In America, we take understandable pride in being Number One.
We are, after all, the richest people on Earth with the largest
economy by far. We have the largest military. We’re still the only
country to have put a man on the moon. We invented and
mastered the internet.
Why, then, are we only the 41st (yes, you read that right)
longest living people on the planet? According to the latest
report by the U.S. Census Bureau, an American baby born in
2004 can expect to live 77.9 years.
And although a new preliminary report released March 16, 2011
from the Centers of Disease Control estimates that the new life
expectancy has increased to 78 years and 2 months for a baby
born in 2009, that's still far below other developed nations. That’
s still over 4 years less than a Japanese baby, who can expect to
live a full 82 years.
[update: In 2015, the US is ranked 27 out of 36 countries in
terms of longevity by the Organization for Economic
Development which ranks developed countries such as the US,
European countries and Japan in terms of health and other
measures of well-being.
In 1960, people in the US lived 1 year longer than the OECD
average. But our performance has worsened over the past 50
years. Today, the life expectancy of people in the US is 1 and
1/2 years shorter than the OECD average.]
"Something's wrong here when one of the richest countries in
the world, the one that spends the most on health care, is not
able to keep up with other countries," said Dr. Christopher
Murray, head of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at
the University of Washington, in an article reported by the
Associated Press. Americans rank behind countries like France
(80.4), Sweden (80.3) and Canada (80.0).
In fact we rank behind most of Europe, and even one Middle
Eastern country (Jordan). What’s going on?
Economists and scientists do not know exactly why this is so. But
our lifestyles surely play a big role. And so, with the old year
leaving us and a new one beckoning, here are 3 simple things we
can do to change the direction of our health for the better:
1. Save the first 5 minutes of the day for ourselves. Before we
jump out of bed to tackle everyone else's problems, pause just 5
minutes to lie in bed and reflect, with gratitude, on the gift of a
good night's sleep and the gift of having awakened.
2. Stand up just 5 minutes out of every hour. That will add an
additional 90 minutes a day of standing to our lives. Standing
helps to lower blood pressure, strengthen our balance and adds
many other benefits.
3. Eat more dark, leafy green vegetables and add fish to our
4. Drink more water than you think you need. Our bodies detect
when we are thirsty. But our detection mechanisms are not as
good as they ought to be. We never detect when we are
dehydrated before we actually become dehydrated. This means
that by the time you know you are thirsty, you are already very
To get ahead of the curve, drink when you're not thirsty. Remind
yourself to sip a bit of water each hour, even if you don't feel like
it. Other ways to satisfy your thirst? Eat fruit or vegetables.
Scientists have found that "eating your water" by consuming
fruits and vegetables actually hydrates your body more deeply
than simply drinking water. You should do both.
Is Our Health System Also to Blame?
Some of the difference in lifespans between America and Europe
--- a tiny bit -- is attributable to racial disparities in life spans.
White Americans actually live about 78.3 years according to the
CDC ---still about 4 years shorter than the Japanese or six years
shorter than some Europeans--- while African Americans can
expect to live 73.3 years.
Researchers explain the alarming gap in life spans between the
US and European countries to a combination of inadequate
health insurance, obesity and lifestyle factors such as stress.
Countries such as England, Canada and France have national
health coverage which may explain some of the gap. People with
health coverage are more likely to seek medical attention
immediately when they need it, rather than wait until the
problem gets worse and their health deteriorates.
This problem of non-existent health coverage or under-coverage
plagues about 47 million of us. The problem persists and will
persist, despite "Obamacare" or the potential replacement
"Trumpcare", because the costs of insuring a nation of people
who are chronically overweight and inactive for an average
monthly premium that is both affordable to average Americans
and profitable to insurance companies is almost impossible.
And the remaining 253 million of us with health insurance often
encounter a health care system that seems more intent on
denying us coverage than ensuring our access to health care.
In fact, many life-or-death health decisions are no longer made
solely by you and your doctor. Instead, these decisions are
ultimately made by HMOs or insurance companies.
There's one small consolation. If you are denied coverage by
some person –who may no even be a medical doctor – in some
cubicle at an HMO, you do have a right to appeal. If you survive
long enough to win the appeal, then you may be able to finally
get the coverage you have paid premiums to get. Of course, if
you win your appeal, you better not get sick again ---you will
probably never be approved for insurance again.
Most HMOs and insurance companies have many loopholes which
give them the right to not renew your insurance contract in the
next renewal period. That’s not right or fair –but then again it
was probably not fair to deny you coverage in the first place.
Of course, you can appeal the non-renewal to some court and
spend the remainder of your shortened lives fighting HMOs,
right? A lot of Americans caught up in this crazy maze have
started heading for the EXIT sign. You may have heard the new
growing trend of “medical vacations”.
BBC News (owned by The British Broadcasting Company) ran a
report on September 14, 2007, about India’s attempts to
become a medical tourism destination. In the report, a woman
from Oregon explained that she had traveled from Oregon to
Mumbai, India for a hip replacement. The woman explained that
her health insurance would have required her to pay 20% of the
cost. Apparently, even after factoring in the cost of a plane
ticket for a 5000 mile trip and the costs for a hotel and food, it
was still cheaper to have the operation in Mumbai than in
Let's Take a Closer Look At Lifestyle Factors
Which leaves lifestyle factors ---- stress, obesity? We Americans
are, to put it impolitely, fat. The latest research reports put the
number of overweight or obese Americans at 67%. That's two
out of three of us. Americans under 30 may be the first
generation which will die at an earlier age than their parents. As
for stress, that factor is hard to pin down.
We Americans work longer hours for many more years than any
other people in the industrialized world. We take an average of
less than a week of vacation per year. Europeans average total
vacation time of 6 to 8 weeks.
A recent survey by KFC reported that 62% of us believe that the
one hour lunch is “the biggest myth of working life”. MSNBC
reported that many of us take only a half hour for lunch and
plenty of us eat at our desks. Job security has all but vanished
for the current generation of us working.
And because older Americans – our parents — are on average
sicker than, say, Europeans and Japanese and Canadians for
longer periods of their mature years, working Americans often
find ourselves sandwiched between the need to care for aging
parents and kids. So, while it’s hard to pin down exactly what
kind of stress may be killing us off sooner than the rest of the
industrialized world, we have plenty of candidate stressors which
may be to blame.
How do we close the gap? Much of it is beyond our fixing
immediately. But surely, we can work on the problem of obesity.
Doctors say losing even a few pounds, especially around the
middle, can add years of healthy living.
Read more articles on extending your lifespan: Foods That Shrink
Your Waist / Normal Waist Size / Fast Walkers Live Longer /
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