Healthier Lifestyle, Longer Life

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It may still be too early to talk about life expectancy in a post-pandemic world, but it’s been obvious to researchers for years that Americans have a shorter life expectancy than their counterparts in Germany, the United Kingdom, Austria, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Australia, Sweden, Japan, and Switzerland—referred to as “comparable countries” in research studies.

A 2022 report1 by Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker said, “The U.S. has the lowest life expectancy among large, wealthy countries while it far outspends its peers on healthcare.” The average life expectancy in 2021 for those living in the United States was 76.1, compared to 84.5 for those in Japan, and 84 for those in Switzerland. Health spending per capita in 2021, though, was $12,313 in the United States, compared to $4,666 in Japan and $7,179 in Switzerland.

Why is life expectancy low in the U.S., compared to other rich countries?

Even though Americans spend far more on health than other countries,2 there are reasons behind America’s comparatively low life expectancy. They include:

  • Smoking. The U.S. had 92.49 deaths from smoking per 100,000 people in 2019—the highest in the comparable countries study.
  • Obesity. Approximately 70% of Americans are overweight and more than 36% are obese

—the highest among the comparable countries.

  • Homicides. America’s homicide rate is more than 3½ times higher than Canada’s, and more than 10 times higher than the United Kingdom’s. Because most homicide victims are young, this contributes to lower life expectancy in the U.S.
  • Opioids. Opioid deaths in the U.S. in 2019 reached 13.69 deaths per 100,000 individuals, compared to 4.67 in Canada and .06 in Brazil.
  • Suicides, road injuries, infant mortality, poverty, and economic inequality. The U.S. also has the highest percentage of deaths in these categories.

Small steps over time can lead to big outcomes

While there’s not much we can do as individuals to lower the country’s overall death rates and increase life expectancy, we can work to try to improve our own health—and maybe find subtle ways to inspire family members and friends to do the same. Get started with these recommendations from Johns Hopkins Medicine.3 4

  • Be active more often. Exercise lowers your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and some cancers. It also helps prevent dementia and other cognitive changes. Aim for at least 30 minutes a day, which can be broken into three 10-minutes segments.
  • Get quality sleep. Poor sleep habits impact your emotions, memory, weight, and appearance. Many sleep problems are caused by medication side effects, underlying medical conditions, snoring, depression, or prostrate problems. If this is the case for you, address these issues with your doctor.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. The healthiest people in a Johns Hopkins study maintained a body mass index (BMI) of less than 25.
  • Make healthy food choices. The Johns Hopkins study revealed that the healthiest people followed a Mediterranean-style diet, which is rich in vegetables and fresh fruits, tree nuts, healthy oils, fish, whole-grain carbs and olive oil for cooking—and low in meat, sugar and processed foods.
  • If you smoke, stop. Smoking impacts coronary arteries and lungs, and smokers have increased rates of cancer and risk of stroke. Johns Hopkins researchers, in conjunction with scientists from other centers, found that quitting decreased middle-aged smokers’ risk of dying early by almost half. They also reported that the risk of a heart attack decreases in as little as 24 hours after stopping smoking.

Remember that no one can achieve their health goals overnight, so develop a plan that is right for you, stick to it, and enjoy a longer, healthier life!

1Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker, 12/6/2022: How does U.S. life expectancy compare to other countries?

2Our World in Data, 10/29/2020: Why is life expectancy in the US lower than in other countries?

3Johns Hopkins Medicine: It’s Never Too Late: Five Healthy Steps at Any Age

4Johns Hopkins Medicine: 4 Top Ways to Live Longer

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