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Americans' Lifespan Has Lengthened Markedly

< Mar. 14, 2012 > -- If it seems that more people are reaching the centennial mark, you're right. Over the last 75 years in the U.S., the risk of dying at any given point in time has fallen by 60 percent.

Photo of two women jogging

One reason for the drop in death rates is improved lifestyle choices, including smoking cessation. Another reason is advances in medical care, particularly in treating heart disease.

"The way we live now is much different than in the [1930s]," says Donna Hoyert, Ph.D., at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics and author of the lifespan study. "In the medical field, there have been advances and changes in behavior over time."

To compile the statistics for the report, published in this month's NCHS Data Brief, Dr. Hoyert used data on vital statistics from 1935 to 2010.

Main points

Highlights of the report include:

  • In each year, heart disease, cancer, and stroke were among the five leading causes of death.

  • The risk of dying dropped in all age groups but was strongest among children ages 1 to 4 years, where the rate dropped by 94 percent.

  • For those ages 85 and older, the risk of dying dropped by 38 percent.

  • The decline in deaths was seen in all racial and ethnic groups. But disparities still exist, with the biggest gap found between 1988 and 1996, when one white person died for every four African-Americans.

More work needed

Laurence Gardner, M.D., at the University of Miami, says that antibiotics have played an important role in improved death rates. And more aggressive treatment for heart disease, including the widespread use of statins to lower cholesterol levels, has also helped.

But Dr. Gardner says improvements still need to be made in cancer treatment and in preventing obesity.

"If we don't effectively address the obesity/diabetes issue, we may lose some of the benefit we have gained," he says. "We haven't seen the effect of the epidemic of obesity and diabetes reflected in the death rate [yet]."

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Lifestyle Tips for Longevity

If you want to live long and live well, consider the advice of longevity experts: Stay physically, socially, and mentally active, and stick to a healthy diet. Ask your doctor to help you start a safe exercise plan that fits your abilities. Get advice from your doctor or a nutrition expert on setting up a diet plan. Call a friend, join a group, and find ways to interact with others.

Here are more tips for longevity:

  • Find physical activities that you enjoy and will stick with. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity every day. Try to include some strength training a few days a week.

  • Join a group. Try a group activity such as yoga or tai chi that combines exercise with balance and stretching.

  • Organize family get-togethers. Find friends and family members who will join you in social activities and stimulating conversation.

  • Exercise your mind. Challenge your mind by reading, taking a class, starting a new hobby, or learning a new skill.

  • Enjoy your fruits and veggies. Fill up your plate with many types and colors of fresh produce.

  • Read up to eat well. Learn how to read the Nutrition Facts panels on food products and choose wisely.

  • Make food interesting. Flavor your food with extra spices, herbs, or fresh lemon juice to stimulate your taste buds.

Finally, don't forget to get enough sleep and to keep a positive attitude. If you want to live to 100, the sooner you get going, the better your chances of getting there.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

CDC - 75 Years of Mortality in the United States

CDC - Healthy Living

Healthfinder.gov - Quick Guide to Healthy Living