Health

For a Long, Healthy Life, Medicine Isn’t the Answer

Mom was right — we've got to take better care of ourselves

New data released by the National Center for Health Statistics shows that for the first time in more than 20 years, the life expectancy of Americans is declining.

This despite ongoing predictions that we may soon be living decades longer due to all of the advancements in disease prevention and medicine.

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Americans are now expected to live an average of 78.8 years — a one-tenth of one year drop since 2014. Women now have a life expectancy of 81.2 years, while men are expected to live an average of 76.3 years.

The overall death rate was up 1.2 percent in 2015, with a total of 2,712,630 resident deaths registered — 86,212 more than in 2014.

What’s killing us? Nearly half of all deaths (45 percent) are due to heart disease or cancer. Mortality rates were up, though, for most of the 10 leading causes of death. These include heart disease, respiratory disease, unintentional injuries, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and suicide.

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This chart from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows the leading causes of death for Americans in 2014 (dark blue) and in 2015 (green).

In other words — we’re not taking very good care of ourselves.

The one area of positive news is this: While death rates rose for white men, white women, and black men — they stayed essentially the same for black women, and for Hispanic men and women.

None of this should come as a surprise. Numbers released earlier this year by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention forewarned of the trend. The main reasons for the increase in death rates for white men, especially, are attributed to suicide, drug overdoses and related causes.

Related: Older, Wiser — and Cast Aside by Cancer

Generally speaking, as a nation we continue to eat poorly, get too little exercise, neglect timely screenings that might help us catch disease early and prevent major complications — and avoid getting help for our mental health issues. We have a long way to go, but we often know what to do in order to better care for ourselves. It may not always guarantee longevity — but it will certainly increase the odds.

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