New research suggests that men alive now may have a life expectancy of 87. But can all men take advantage of the men's health revolution?
There's always lots of bad news out there about men's health.
Men smoke and drink more than women. We're more reckless and less likely to see a doctor. We get into fights, drive too fast and take more illegal drugs. The net result is that the longevity gap between men and women is, on average, between four and five years.
But now here's some good news, just for a change. And it's a bit of a humdinger. Some experts say that adult males will soon have the same life expectancy as adult women, for the first time since records began.
They also say that by the time today's 12-year-old boys reach 30, they can expect to live another 57 years, to a grand old age of 87 years and more.
Here's why men are closing the longevity gap, and how you can cash in on the revolution in men's health whatever your age.
Why is there a longevity gap in the first place?
The longevity gap is largely down to that pesky lifestyle thing. Men might know what's good for them, but often don't practice it. Smoking can be seen as the worst culprit. More men smoke than women, though the gap is not large. But a lot more men than women are classified as hazardous drinkers, and far more men end up in fights and accidents.
Add to that the results of a study by the International Food Information Council, which found that far more women than men eat healthy foods, and the longevity gap is easily explained.
And there's something else, besides. Researchers looking at other species have also noted longer female lifespan, leading to the suggestion that males in general are genetically weaker in terms of longevity.
What does the new research say?
The gap between male and female lifespan has been narrowing for a number of years. Professor Leslie Mayhew, a statistician at City University, London, thinks men could soon be living as long and perhaps even longer than women.
He has calculated that a boy born in 2000, who reaches the age of 30, is likely to live as long as his female contemporaries. And Professor Mayhew also says that the boy has every chance of living well past his 80s, with 87 becoming the average lifespan for men who make it out of their 20s.
It's interesting to note that these new figures only kick in once men reach 30. That's largely because the longevity gap is skewed by the number of reckless, violent or plain unfortunate men who don't make it out of their 20s. If men gave up taking silly risks such as drink driving, the figures could look even better.
So what's driving the men's health revolution?
It seems that lifestyle improvements and medical advances might just be trumping any genetic disadvantage men face.
"There has been a huge decline in the numbers working in heavy industry; far fewer males smoke than before and there is much better treatment for heart disease, which tends to affect more males than females," Professor Mayhew told a Sunday newspaper.
Heavy industries like mining caused many premature male deaths through accidents and work-related disease. They also promoted a culture of ill health. Put simply, if you worked in a mine all day then a bit of comfort drinking and smoking might have been inevitable.
But along with reduced smoking uptake, combating heart disease is the biggest success story. For that we have medical science to thank. Men are still up to three times more likely than women to suffer a heart attack, but more and more men are surviving them.
But I'm over 30 already? How can I benefit?
Professor Mayhew's figures are based on national trends, which are in turn based on predicted lifestyle changes.
In other words, the rate of improvement is an average of what all men might do. In a couple of decades, all men at 30 might have an average life expectancy of 87, based on present rates of improvement. But individual men can leap ahead of the estimate by implementing those changes now.
Nothing is set in stone. In Sweden, experts have predicted that the merging of male and female life expectancy will come sooner, by 2024 at the latest. That's simply because more men are adopting healthier lifestyles sooner. But in Russia, the longevity gap is stuck at a whopping 12 years.
So if you want to live to 87 and beyond, forget the fatalism of your genes. If you do all that boring stuff you've heard about before eating your five-a-day, drinking sensibly, exercising regularly, staying safe, seeing the doctor when something's wrong and stop smoking you're giving yourself the best chance of leaping ahead of statistical trends.
In other words, this research is the most hopeful piece of men's health news in a long time. It says that it isn't our destiny to die earlier than women, and that both genders can live to an equally ripe old age. The study describes what Professor Mayhew calls the "well entrenched" trend of increasing male life expectancy. That's got to be worth celebrating.
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