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Exploring Why US Life Expectancy Is So Low

An image of an older couple blowing out candles on a cake togetherHow long you’re likely to live depends on where you live. Longevity is often used as an indicator of the quality of life in certain countries. And in western countries, life expectancy has been on the increase for decades due to a number of different changes and technological advances.

But there is a single exception to this increase, and it’s one that you might not expect. If you’ve been keeping up with recent news on health and longevity, then you might already know that life expectancy in the US is increasing at a much slower rate than other countries. If you’re an American, then this is a major concern, and it’s something that you need to know more about if you’re going to go against the trend.

What Is Life Expectancy?

Basically, life expectancy is the length of time that someone is expected to live. It can apply to individuals but also to countries and is often used as a marker to determine the quality of life in different parts of the world.

There are several factors that impact how long people are expected to live including:

  • Access to health care
  • Hygiene levels
  • Diet and nutrition
  • Gender
  • Genetics
  • Exercise
  • Crime rates
  • Lifestyle

Obviously, some of these factors you have no control over. Others, such as lifestyle factors, are well within the control of individuals and society as a whole.

Life Expectancy in The US

Life expectancy has increased steadily in most western countries over the last few decades. This may be at least partially because of easier access to healthcare and vast improvements in the medical field generally.

However, since the 1980s, longevity statistics in the US have diverged from that of other western countries. In fact, between 1980 and 2019, overall life expectancy increased by around 3 years less than in similar countries. This is despite the fact that the US spent far more on healthcare during the same period.

In most countries, statistics show that longevity increases steadily as countries spend more money on healthcare per person. However, the US often spends up to three times more money on healthcare per person than other high-income countries. And yet despite this expenditure, the US still experiences much smaller gains in life expectancy compared to those same countries.

A good example of this is Chile. America spends five times more money on healthcare than Chile and yet the people of Chile are generally expected to live longer than most Americans. This is a shocking finding, but there may be reasons for it.

Why Is the US Different?

There are several potential reasons for the lower increase in life expectancy in the US compared to other similar countries. Some of these potential causes are:

  • The high administrative costs in the US, which result in healthcare spending going to administration rather than caring for people.
  • Higher violence rates in the US, though this is unlikely to be the cause as the rates are dropping in the US.
  • Inequality in the healthcare system, with little access to care for a large segment of the population and high expenditure on the wealthy in the US.
  • COVID-19.

However, it is difficult to determine whether there’s a causal reaction between these factors and the slower-than-usual growth of longevity in the US.

How COVID-19 Impacted US Longevity

An image of people wearing protective gearCOVID-19 had a significant impact on longevity in the US. In most high-income countries, life expectancy at birth decreased in 2020 due to the pandemic. The two exceptions to this are Japan and Australia, where the handling of the pandemic was different and led to a low infection rate. Expected longevity in these two countries actually went up in 2020.

Unfortunately, the US experienced different results. The increases in premature death rates and mortality during the COVID pandemic in the US were higher than in peer countries. This may have increased the gap between how long people were expected to live in the US compared to other similar parts of the world. Here’s a look at the different statistics during this time:

  • The average expected life length in comparable countries was 82.1 in 2020
  • This number was 82.6 in 2019
  • In the US in 2019, life expectancy was 78.8 years
  • In 2020, the length of time that people were expected to live dropped to 77

This suggests that the gap in longevity that already existed between the US and other countries may have worsened during the COVID pandemic.

The decrease in longevity in the US was at least partly due to racial disparities in COVID-19 mortality. The statistics show that longevity dropped for:

  • Non-Hispanic people of color by 2.9 years
  • Hispanic people by 3 years
  • Non-Hispanic white people by 1.2 years

However, the decrease in expected longevity for non-Hispanic white people was still larger in the US than in other similar countries, which experienced a drop of around .5 years.

How to Increase Your Life Expectancy

There probably isn’t much that you can do to change this worrying US trend, short of moving to another country or going into politics to change the country’s policies or social relationship to stress.

However, there are things you can do in your own life that may increase your life expectancy. Here are some ideas to try:

  • Spend more time in nature and away from screens.
  • Drop bad habits like smoking or drinking to excess.
  • Make sure that you stay in a healthy weight range.
  • Exercise regularly and according to the needs and condition of your body.
  • Spend more time with friends and family who uplift you and make you feel good.
  • Floss every day, which improves dental health and may help protect you from cardiac disease.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet that’s based on organic, lean meats, healthy fats and grains, and lots of fruit and vegetables.
  • Lower your stress levels by meditating, doing yoga, and identifying and avoiding stress triggers.
  • Get regular health screenings to look for signs of trouble.
  • Keep your brain active by learning, doing puzzles, or adopting hobbies.
  • Develop good sleeping habits.

A Quick Guide to Adrenal Fatigue

Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) causes a range of health concerns and disorders that could have a serious impact on your life expectancy. AFS is a little-known disorder that occurs when your adrenal glands become fatigued from the overproduction of cortisol. Cortisol is often called the stress hormone and it’s released whenever you’re stressed as part of the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response.

The NEM stress response activates when you’re stressed, prompting the release of cortisol. The high cortisol levels then change how the body’s circuits function to help you survive a threat.

Unfortunately, the modern world is full of small, ongoing stressors, which keep the NEM stress response active and cortisol levels high. The changes prompted by this system then become ongoing, which causes malfunctions and a range of health problems and concerns.

Longevity and AFS

An image of a woman lying in bedUnfortunately, AFS isn’t commonly understood or accepted by the medical establishment. As a result, people with this disorder often suffer a range of health complaints without help or understanding of what’s happening.

This is a serious threat to your health and your life expectancy. And it could be one that's more common in the US than in any other country because of the relationship between the modern American lifestyle and stress. Too often in the US, stress is seen as a sign that you're working hard and living your best life. But stress can be absolutely deadly, so if you're living this lifestyle, then you're at higher risk of adrenal fatigue and related problems.

AFS in the earlier stages causes mostly ongoing fatigue. But in the later stages, you may experience problems such as brain fog, ongoing infections, blood sugar instabilities, metabolic derangement, and cardiac symptoms. Eventually, you can be left bedbound and unable to handle the slightest stressors. In unaddressed, you may experience worsening symptoms or even a full-body collapse, cutting your life short.

To avoid this situation, you need to talk to a medical expert who’s aware of AFS. They will be able to guide you to rebalance your body’s circuits and alleviate the underlying adrenal fatigue. This is the best way to protect your health over the long and short term.

If you're in the early stages of AFS, adopting healthy lifestyle habits, such as gentle regular exercise and a healthy diet, while reducing stress, could be the best way to protect your longevity.

The Takeaway

Life expectancy is often a good way to evaluate the quality of life in a country. This marker of health and prosperity has been steadily increasing over the years due to medical advances, healthcare access, and lifestyle factors. However, the fact that longevity in the US is increasing much more slowly than in other high-income countries is a big concern. Here’s what you need to know about this troubling trend:

  1. Expected life length is increasing in the US, but much slower than in other similar countries.
  2. COVID may be one reason for this difference, but it existed before the pandemic, so there are clearly other causes.
  3.  Talk to your doctor for suggestions to improve your own life expectancy.

For more information on ways to improve your life expectancy, especially if you struggle with AFS, talk to our team at +1 (626) 571-1234 or click here.

© Copyright 2023 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Life expectancy basically refers to the length of time that people are expected to live in a certain country. It’s impacted by factors like medical care, access to healthcare, and a variety of lifestyle factors like diet, environment, exercise levels, and nutrition. US life expectancy dropped to 77 years in 2020, compared to 82.1 in comparable countries.

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