US Life Expectancy Decreases

Americans who were born in 2015 are expected to have shorter lives compared to previous generations

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Life expectancy for babies born in 2015 has decreased — a first in a generation
Life expectancy for babies born in 2015 has decreased — a first in a generation

Recently released data from National Center for Health Statistics shows that life expectancy for a person born in 2015 is down from 78.9 years to 78.8 years.

While that may not seem like a large decrease, the fact that medical advances are not outpacing death rates for the first time in a decade causes medical experts some concerns — and a hard look at why we’re dying.

Richard Derwald, coordinator of the Erie County Senior Fitness program, is 82.  He believes that the “secret” to healthy aging is not a secret at all.

“All of us really have the power to age successfully,” he said. “We know what the problems are and we can’t ignore them.”

He pointed out that rising rates of obesity play a big role in longevity. Obesity raises the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer.

“At least 50 percent of chronic disease is caused by poor diet and inactivity,” Derwald said.

Derwald added that stress can also contribute to ill health, and even though they may be done with the stressors of the working life, retirees encounter their own stressors.

“When you’re older, loss will come into your life more often: loss of a spouse, close friend,” Derwald said.

In addition to stress’ direct harmful effects on the cardiovascular system, busyness edges out healthful pursuits such as exercise and stress reduction. It also contributes to substance abuse, as does untreated mental health issues.

Fewer older people live with or near family members than did a couple generations ago. According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly 70 percent of people 65-plus lived with their adult children in the 1850s. By the end of the 1900s, the figure dwindled to fewer than 15 percent.

Derwald said that isolation can affect physical health, and “lead to an awful lot of illness.

He explained that people who live alone tend to eat more poorly, engage in less physical and social activity, and ignore early symptoms of physical problems.

How to Increase Your Chances to Live Longer

To improve your healthy longevity, local experts offer a few tips:

• “It’s important to get out, spend time in nature, find a friend and go for a hike. Absorb all of the beauty and goodness around you.

• “Be active. Participate. Help at the library book sale. Tutor a child at the elementary school. Draw purpose and explore.

• “Keep learning. Take a Spanish class, just for the fun of it.

• “Do something new, like go kayaking.

• “The more positive things you do, the more positively it will affect you.”
Kandy Svec, registered yoga teacher and aruyvedic yoga specialist at Himalayan Institute Buffalo in Buffalo.

• “We’ve forgotten about the most important thing is the social aspect of getting together with other people who are working towards the same goal. You see those people performing the way you are and you’re motivated by those in your peer group.

• “It’s about consistency. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount of activity, but just consistent: 30 minutes a day of movement brings people out of their comfort zone and into something more strenuous. It’s like flossing: it doesn’t take a lot of time but it really benefits you if you do it consistently.

• “Whatever the individual feels is appropriate for that individual. There’s so much information out there and it changes frequently. If you feel great after swimming, swim. If you feel great after tai chi, do tai chi.

• “There’s a huge menu of what people can do but find a place where you have social connections.”
Ann Vorburger, director of Health, Fitness and Recreation at JCC, Getzville

• “I recommend resistance exercise. Resistance bands strengthen bones, ligaments, tendons, and muscles and help keep the metabolic rate up. As we get older, our bodies change. Part of the reason is we’re losing muscles and the strength in our ligaments and tendons. Resistance bands can help reverse that.

• “Walking is the number one cardiovascular exercise.

• “Eat a balanced diet.”

Richard Derwald, coordinator of the Erie County Senior Fitness program