In a report prepared by the United Nations’ Population Division, it’s said that the global trend of population aging from 1950 and 2050 has been “unprecedented”, “perversive” and “enduring”. This means that the aging trend is one which is never before seen in human history and is affecting every man, woman, and child. And it’s here to stay. While this implies major public policies adjustments on a macro level to cater to an aging population and lifestyle changes or retirement planning on a personal level, let’s get to the core of some important terms: life expectancy and lifespan. Are they really the same? Or have we been using them interchangeably without quite knowing their differences?
Life expectancy vs lifespan
According to Dr. Ananya Mandal of news-medical.net, most of us have been using the terms “life expectancy” and “lifespan” randomly all along.
Life expectancy means the number of years an individual is expected to live in a given geographical location or time in history and it’s greatly affected by many factors. For instance, in a report by the University of California, Berkeley saw below, the average life expectancy for the American man was 67.1 in 1970. Fast forward 20 years later to 1990, the American man’s life expectancy has increased to 71.8. Looking at the ages of both men and women in America over a 30-year period from 1968 to 1998, it’s obvious that there’s a rising trend in the average life expectancy of Americans throughout that period. Hence, life expectancy is highly variable from one person or gender to another.
Life expectancy in the US from 1968 – 1998 (men and women)
Moreover, many other factors influence an individual’s life expectancy, such as the country of residence, education, income, exposure to pollution and access to healthcare, among others. In the table below from geography.about.com documenting life expectancies in various countries in 2015, developed countries generally reign in the list of highest life expectancies. Countries having the lowest life expectancies are usually found in impoverished parts of Africa where diseases are rampant or in war-torn countries where political and economic stability are the exception rather than the norm.
Personal lifestyle habits such as frequency of exercise, smoking and alcohol consumption can greatly affect life expectancy as well.
Life expectancies in countries as of 2015
|Highest life expectancies||Lowest life expectancies|
|1) 89.5 years – Monaco||1) 49.7 years – South Africa|
|2) 84.7 years – Singapore (tie with Japan)||2) 49.8 years – Chad|
|2) 84.7 years – Japan (tie with Singapore)||3) 50.2 years – Guinea-Bissau|
|4) 83.2 years – San Marino||4) 50.9 years – Afghanistan|
|5) 82.7 years – Andorra||5) 51.1 years – Swaziland|
On the other hand, lifespan is the number of years an individual can live. For example, occupying the supercentenarian (a person older than 110 years) top spot is French woman Jean Calment. She’s the oldest human being ever documented after verification by Guinness World Records and the Gerontology Research Group whose mission is to slow down, reverse aging and promote a healthy lifestyle. She lived to a ripe old age of 122 years and 164 days. The Americans refuse to be outdone by the French. The oldest living American ever documented was Sarah Knauss, who was 119 years and 97 days old when she passed on in 1999. Want to know how long you’ll live? Here’s how.
Life expectancy calculator
Well, you don’t have to gaze into a crystal ball to know how much longer you’re going to be around for. You can simply calculate your own life expectancy using a life expectancy calculator such as the one available in myabaris.com. Developed by the professors at the University of Pennsylvania, this calculator takes into account factors such as age and physique, educational levels and fitness level, among others. Though you’ll get an answer for the evergreen question “How long will I live” with a few clicks of the mouse, it should be noted that the life expectancy calculator hasn’t taken into consideration all the factors which affect longevity. Hence, the number you get from a life expectancy calculator shouldn’t be taken as definitive. Perhaps it could be an affirmation of the good habits you’ve been keeping up with or an indicator of whether you should make certain adjustments to your current lifestyle.
The divide between life expectancy and lifespan
Life expectancy is calculated in a very statistical and precise way utilizing what social scientists call “life table analysis”. The tabulation of lifespan, on the other hand, is more random and arbitrary and doesn’t follow a scientific collection of data or analysis. Partly due to its speculative nature, the possible length of human lifespan has been a hot debate topic in social sciences circle. There are generally three schools of thoughts. Some scientists have a doomsday-ish belief that Western populations are moving in the direction of a lifespan between 85 and 100 years old. Another group purports that the human lifespan can possibly be extended for some number of years due to advancements in medicine, healthcare or diet. The third groups make a bold assumption that the human lifespan could be infinite as there are medical and technological breakthroughs every day which could potentially prolong lifespan. However, some statisticians suggest the importance of yet another way of measuring the number of years humans can live.
Healthy life expectancy
As if the complexity between life expectancy and lifespan isn’t enough, some medical experts stress the importance healthy life expectancy (HLE). It’s a measure that takes into consideration mortality data and health status information (eg. risk factors such as suffering from chronic illnesses like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases or cancers) to accurately predict the expected number of years an individual at a given age is in good health. HLE takes into consideration the quality of life as well.
Where HLE is used
- monitor the health status of a population
- predict health services need in the future
- evaluate existing health programs
- identify health care needs, trends, and inequalities
However, there are not many studies which have reported HLE at the state level in the US. So the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) used information from the National Vital Statistics Systems (NVSS), US Census Bureau and Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) to calculate HLEs for individuals 65 years old for all 50 American states and the District of Columbia (DC) between 2007 and 2009. The indications can be used to monitor HLE changes in individuals of 65 years old as they age and identify health care inequalities among various subgroups in the population.
What the results show:
- American women 65 years old have a higher HLE than American men of the same age across all states and DC
- Whites have a higher HLE than blacks in all states where substantial data is available
By now, you may have observed a telling trend – it seems that women have a longer life expectancy and HLE than men. Why is that so?
Why women tend to live longer than men
Don’t be too surprised that the epic battle of the sexes extends to life expectancy as well. According to CDC, women win hands down with a life expectancy averaging between five and seven years longer than men. Let’s look at the various factors resulting in this phenomena:
- Women are less likely to be involved in violent or dangerous behaviors than men
- Fewer women die from murder, car accidents, murders or cardiovascular diseases than men do
- Women are genetically created to live longer than men
- Women and their immune systems age less slowly than men
- Women typically only develop cardiovascular diseases after menopause. Men, however, are plagued with this disease earlier on in life and hence pass on sooner due to these diseases than women do.
Though some of us may not be genetically blessed to live a longer life, there are very simple adjustments which we can make in our daily lives to pave the way to a happier, healthier and longer life.
Ways to live longer
Want to hang around for a little longer? Say ‘hooray’ to these simple ways of increasing your lifespan.
- Hang out often with your besties
It isn’t new news that having a wide circle of friends whom you can hang out with and maintain social contact promotes health and therefore let you live longer. So take every opportunity to spend time or do things together with your loved ones and friends.
- Enjoy sunshine
The exposure to sunlight creates vitamin D on the skin which is essential for healthy bones and keeping heart diseases, diabetes and depression at bay. Moreover, it’s also super-easy to ensure that you get enough sunshine. Just play your favorite sports/exercises outdoors or simply take a stroll outside on a sunny day to let your skin embrace sunlight.
- Work up some sweat
This piece of advice has been around for ages. However, exercises must be done in the correct way for you to live longer. They should be done daily for about three hours weekly or slightly more than 30 minutes daily. A study revealed that the cells of an exerciser are nine years younger than that of a non-exerciser. If you make a promise to yourself to keep to the daily routine, it’d be subconsciously easier for you to keep to that routine.
Cultivating the habit of daily exercise can also prevent exercising in bouts. From an increasing life span point of view, keeping up with consistent and moderate exercise as the years go by is more effective, not to mention safer than exercising in intense bouts and then followed by no exercise for a period of time. Moreover, daily exercise promotes better sleep and improved levels of energy, all of which are essential for living longer.
Before you go get a gym membership, exercise can be done in the convenience and comfort of home. Exercises such as free weights and yoga can be done at any time of the day whenever you like it.
- Eat (more of) your greens
This doesn’t mean you’ve to swear off your favorite meat and go all vegetarian. The trick is to reduce your intake of meat and increase vegetable consumption at every meal. Every bite of vegetables contains good fats and antioxidants which help to maintain a healthy body weight. This is one of the top reasons for staving off heart diseases and high blood pressure which could give rise to a slew of health complications. Should you find it tough to resist the lure of that succulent steak, try this. Dedicate one day of the week to be ‘vegetarian day’ or make it one vegetarian meal daily. With tasty and easy-to-prepare vegetarian meals like these, there’s no excuse not to eat more vegetables.
- Other little things in life
This sounds weird but it’s true. Flossing helps you live longer. It prevents bacteria in inflamed gums from finding their way to the arteries and making the heart work harder. If the heart isn’t made to work overtime, you’re likely to enjoy a longer life.
Switch off the TV. You’ve heard it correctly. Getting away from the TV reduces the physical inactivity which is omnipresent in our modern lifestyles. TV also encourages bingeing on junk food, the likely beginning of weight gain which spirals into a whole range of diseases. So quit being the couch potato and get some lifespan-enhancing exercises.
We’re sure you’ve heard of this before – sex increases lifespan. A direct health benefit of sex is that it triggers endorphins (“happy hormones”) and other healthful hormones in the body. Another reason could be that having sex often means maintaining good relationships with your loved one – the emotional reason of living longer. Go connect with your significant other tonight!