Your Life Expectancy May Be Greater Than You Think

Your life expectancy may be greater than you think, among the reasons the fact that you read this website. And that’s not only or even mainly because of the information I’ve written about – even though I’d like to think it is – but also because of who you are.

Life expectancy at birth

According to the CDC, life expectancy, which is the average age at which most people die, is 78.7 years for the non-Hispanic, white population. However, when broken down by sex, men have a life expectancy at birth of 76.4 years. (Data here.) Data are from 2011.

Life expectancy of ~76 years seems pretty dismal for a guy like me, as that’s only 13 years away. However, we must make several adjustments to the data to get a true picture of how long someone will live.

For one, the longer you live, the better your odds improve of living longer on a relative basis. This is especially so once you make it to adulthood, since infants have a high mortality rate – odds of dying before age 1 are about 0.5%.

According to the Social Security Administration, at age 63, I can expect to live just over 19 more years, so my current life expectancy is 82. (Which I wrote about here.) However, that figure is an average. Most men my age don’t practice a healthy lifestyle, and are overweight, eat processed junk food, and don’t exercise much – and they figure into the averages.

What happens to your life expectancy if you aren’t average – like the typical reader of this site?

Life expectancy for the above average

According to an interesting book I’ve been reading, The Life of Riley: Mastering the five secret habits to enjoy a longer and healthier life, by Phil Riley, four simple conditions greatly subtract from longevity, and if you keep yourself free of them, you’ll live a lot longer. The conditions are about what you’d expect:

  1. Heavy drinking
  2. Smoking
  3. Overweight/obesity
  4. Sedentary lifestyle

According to Riley’s calculations, if you refrain from being in any of those categories, life expectancy for a man is 89 years (using UK data). Women can expect to live to 91 if they don’t fit any of those categories. You can see some of the author’s calculations here.

Riley defines heavy drinking as more than 2-3 daily drinks for a man.

Smoking is obvious; however, even “social smoking” or casual smoking is a risk factor too, such that if someone smoked a few cigarettes a week, he’d be at higher risk of early death.

Overweight is a BMI of 25 or more, obesity of 30 or more. Generally, the leaner the better when it comes to health.

Sedentary lifestyle can be avoided by fairly minimal exercise, such as walking briskly for 30 minutes on at least 5 days a week.

Pretty simple, and my guess is that most readers of this site aim for far more than avoiding those 4 factors.

The point, however, is that average life expectancy calculations can be very misleading. No, the reader is not going to die at age 76; he’s likely going to live much longer, even without putting a lot of effort into it.

What other interventions will do for life expectancy

Here’s the bad news: since aging and the chance of death accelerate as you get older, it takes a lot to increase life expectancy. Josh Mitteldorf ran some numbers, and found, for example, that a 6% decrease in mortality translates into only 7 months of extra life. See table below.

 

So you need strong interventions to increase life expectancy beyond 89 years for a man.

Exercise is one of them. Men who have high levels of exercise capacity, as measured by VO2max, live a long time. Exercise capacity is a powerful factor in health risk, with those men in the highest quintile (fifth) of VO2max having a death rate about one fifth that of men in the lowest quintile. If the decrease in mortality is about 80%, then that should give you about 15 extra years of life, according to Josh’s chart above. However, that increase is only above the average (if I’m not mistaken), so 76 +15 makes only 91. In other words, not all that much above the 89 years that Phil Riley calculated.

If exercise capacity is the most powerful mortality reducer, then we can expect other interventions to do less. Furthermore, as Josh Mitteldorf has been at pains to point out, many life-extension interventions are not additive – you get the same or similar life extension even if you add them. For example, a calorie restriction mimetic, such as resveratrol, berberine, or metformin, or a ketogenic diet, may not add much to your life expectancy if you are already lean, exercise, and practice intermittent fasting.

What if you make a lot of money? Your life expectancy is already up there around 89 years old, and raising it further might be a tough proposition. See chart below.

More powerful anti-aging treatments will be needed for the average person to live longer, things like telomere lengthening. Much more research into aging will be required.

If someone were to continue to lift weights into old age, as well as watch their iron levels, take aspirin – how additive are those interventions?

My plan is to keep doing what I’m doing.

You can see lots of feeble old people around, and it seems clear that most people who live longer than average got there by luck, or by avoiding the four Riley factors noted above. No one really knows how much you can increase lifespan if you put your mind to it, and practice intense exercise, eating right and being lean, intermittent fasting, or other interventions, simply because almost no one has done it.

So we’re entering uncharted territory in extending lifespan.

PS: See my book Muscle Up for more on how strength training leads to longer life.

PPS: Check out my Supplements Buying Guide for Men.

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38 comments
Vlad says March 18, 2018

##Smoking is obvious; however, even “social smoking” or casual smoking is a risk factor too, such that if someone smoked a few cigarettes a week, he’d be at higher risk of early death.##

Well, for me it isn’t 🙂 For one thing, the oldest woman, Jeanne Calment smoked. Richard Overton, the current oldest US veteran, 111, smokes cigars. In animal studies, not only they couldn’t cause lung cancer, but the smoking animals lived longer. A case could be made against present day commercial cigarettes which are to real tobacco what a hot-dog is to a steak. But if you research how we’ve become brainwashed by anti-smokers that today many fear second-hand smoke, you’d be amazed. The anti-fat guys are in kindergarten compared to the anti-smokers.
If someone is interested in the above, I recommend the book ‘smoke screens’ by Richard White or google ‘nightlight smoking’.

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    Mike says March 18, 2018

    45 – 64 year old people in the USA have a smoking rate of about 18% and the smoking rate declines to 8.8% for those over 65. The number one reason for the decline is smokers died and non-smokers lived. You can find some smokers that live(d) well beyond the average but they are known as outliers. You are correct in that the modern blends of tobacco cause more harm that some of the “pure” tobaccos but they still cause harm and death – not to mention that smoking a pack a day of cigarettes for 50 years costs about $1M (direct cost + loss of interest+other costs) and a good chunk of my retirement has been funded by doing nothing more than not smoking.

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paul rivas md says March 18, 2018

Nice post and sobering if not down right depressing, but the thing to keep in mind is that 90 year olds almost always die from one of the big 4 diseases of heart attack, stroke, cancer, and dementia. Of course, that is also true of people who are our age and up to the age of 90, so it is critically important to do everything in our power to avoid those 4 illnesses in particular. To that end your four suggestions are quite helpful, but we must also consider the very powerful contribution of genetic predisposition. We’re not all the same, except that vitamin D as well as K2 and magnesium should be added for everyone, and I would add that pine bark and gotu kola are good for those with a family history of heart disease, and anti- inflammatories if the risk is cancer.
But nothing is as potent as rapamycin when it comes to delaying all of the age-related illnesses, and delay is the key thing now since there will probably be newer discoveries to lengthen lifespan coming up ( and maybe soon).

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Kevin McHale says March 18, 2018

Let’s not forget the importance of sleep to longevity. Our ability to generate sleep declines as we age – indeed this declining ability to generate sleep is up there with sarciopenia as one of the more destructive symptoms of ageing, but also, like sarciopenia, one that we can try to do something about. For more on this, see Matthew Walker’s excellent book, “Why We Sleep”.

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    Bill says March 18, 2018

    The inability to sleep reflects the decreasing production of melatonin as we age. So I take melatonin and have for years. Slept last night for a god 9 hours !

    Back in 2012 Jeff Bowles published a lot on the benefits of taking melatonin.. In fact he asserted it was a key way of staying young….The evidence of that is still not in…

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      paul rivas md says March 19, 2018

      There is evidence that 14mg a day of melatonin will restore the thymus in the elderly. I now take 20 mg and pair it with glycine for an even better sleep.

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        P. D. Mangan says March 19, 2018

        That’s interesting, maybe I need to get back on melatonin. It made me so groggy in the morning I had to stop it. Zinc restores the thymus in mice.

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          Kevin McHale says March 19, 2018

          In ‘Why We Sleep’, Matthew Walker says this about melatonin: “…melatonin helps regulate the timing of when sleep occurs by systematically signalling darkness throughout the organism. But melatonin has little influence on the generation of sleep itself, a mistaken assumption that many people hold.” (Pg. 23 in the UK edition). He points out that other brain regions and processes actively generate the sleep, and while melatonin pills may affect the timing, melatonin is not a powerful sleeping aid in and of itself.
          The whole book is excellent, but Chapter 8 – called ‘Cancer, Heart Attacks and a Shorter Life’ – is, in particular, required reading for anyone interested in longevity. One of the key points he makes in relation to ageing is that to dispel the myth that older people need less sleep. A side effect of ageing is a weakened ability to generate sleep (analogous with the weakening of our muscles as we age). But that does not mean that we need less sleep as we age -we need just as much as when young. And just as we lift weights to counter sarcopenia, we need to find ways to counter the falling away in our brain’s ability to generate sleep as we get older (which, as mentioned, is different from the timing of sleep, which melatonin can influence).

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          Paul Rivas says March 19, 2018

          That makes sense and I’ve ordered his book, so what does he suggest we do to help get more sleep?

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          Kevin McHale says March 19, 2018

          The first thing is to actually recognise sleep, or lack of, as a core problem for longevity, and thereby get the motivation to address the issue. This is probably the main thing the book give you. (The Life Of Riley does not seem to even recognise the issue…) Walker then has various suggestions for what to do. Won’t spoil it for you!

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          Paul Rivas MD says March 19, 2018

          I’m off today so I just read his book on why we sleep as well as Jeff Bowles book on melatonin. I agree that sleep is essential and it was interesting to read the many consequences of insufficient sleep that the author details. I don’t agree with his assessment that all forms of sleep aids are ineffective or down right dangerous. I’m not a big proponent of pharmaceutical sleeping pills but when he references the study that associated them with cancer he lost a certain amount of credibility. That was one of the poorest designed studies I’ve ever read.
          I know from my own experience that melatonin combined with some chamomile and glycine helps me to sleep both longer and more deeply. Jeff has a theory that it also reduces LH levels and thereby reduces Alzheimer risk. Interesting idea.

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          Drifter says March 20, 2018

          I haven’t studied this LH/dementia link in detail, but is seems reasonable to assume that the high LH is an indicator of low testosterone (in the same way elevated TSH can be an indicator of low thyroid) and it’s the low T that is causing the dementia, since per Bredesen’s protocol, restoring T is part of his protocol for reversing dementia.

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          Bill says March 20, 2018

          Allan, I skipped over this comment when I first read it. But have just realised what you mean by LH. : Lutinising hormone !
          And now I remember Jeff Bowles arguing ( in his books & in an email ) that this hormone increases majorly as we age. For women it increases especially after menapause. It does so also for men at a slower but consistent rate.
          I seem to remember Jeff labeling LH the pro ‘aging hormone’ .

          As it stimulates apoptosis : cell suicide. And aging does indeed see lots of cells dying off throughout the body.Muscle wastage is just one example.

          And taking higher doses of melatonin reduces lutinising hormone levels in both older men & women …

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          Kevin McHale says March 19, 2018

          Hey P.D., Have you read ‘Why We Sleep’ ?

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          P. D. Mangan says March 20, 2018

          No, I haven’t.

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          Bill says March 19, 2018

          Kevin I am doubtful about the distinctions made by the author you cite..Or their practical value.
          When we are young melatonin levels are high. And it is easy to get a good nights sleep and even sleep in !
          As we age the capacity of the body to produce melatoin falls and so does the ability to get a good nights sleep.

          Now that was my experience before starting to take melatonin…But since starting to take it as part of my own anti-aging program, I have no trouble sleeping at all – except if I have coffee at night 🙂

          And now I discover that it is good for my thymus…A win/win !

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          Paul Rivas says March 19, 2018

          https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11589755 That dose is the equivalent of 14 mugs for us.

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          Bill says March 19, 2018

          Thanks Paul for that link. Pity that the actual article is still behind a paywall.But the abstract is pretty informative.

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        Bill says March 19, 2018

        Paul I am pleased to hear that about melatonin restoring the thymus in the elderly. That is new to me. Can you point me at your source ?.

        I have taken between 40 & 60 mg a day for the past 4 years…as an anti -aging promoter…

        By the way PD, yes it does lead to me feeling a bit groggy when I wake each day. My solution is a shower. It’s always seemed a small price to pay.

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          Paul Rivas says March 19, 2018

          How do you feel Bill on such a high dose and are you having any side effects?

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          Bill says March 20, 2018

          Paul I feel perfectly fine.. Apart from feeling groggy when waking up in the morning I do not have any side effects…

          Jeff Bowles at one point wrote that taking high doses ( more than 120 mg ! ) of melatonin will result in a low libido.. But that has not been the case for me…

          Bowles based his suggestion of what level of dose to take on the level of melatonin in the blood of young males – late teens to mid 20’s. At this age males are at their peak physically. So he suggests that aiming to restore melatonin levels to this will have significant anti-aging effects…

          His suggested level was up around 90-100 mg is a a bit high I think.. So for the last year i stayed around 40 mg…

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          paul rivas md says March 20, 2018

          Thanks Bill. Good to know. I guess I was wondering if, like other hormones, there is a negative feedback loop at high doses affecting the pineal gland and turning off the natural production of melatonin. But maybe so what.

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        Steven Mitchell says April 2, 2018

        A close relative has a number of serious health conditions, one being related to sleep (e.g., sleep apnoea). His specialist advised him that you do not really get much/any benefit from more than 12mg of melatonin, so you may wish to cut back from 20mg to 12mg. In my relative’s case melatonin has provided significant relief from his sleeping disorder.

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Obel says March 18, 2018

Off topic:

What’s your take on using just HIIT for muscle retention during a cut, and no weightlifting?

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    P. D. Mangan says March 18, 2018

    I’d lift rather than HIIT. That being said, I’m not a bodybuilder so take it with a grain of salt.

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Bill says March 18, 2018

Nice article PD. Yes the averages include a lot of folk fated to die early because of smoking, diet, obesity and being sedentary.
Or from another perspective, we are the ‘outliers’ gaining the benefit of a significantly longer and healthier lives by avoiding them…Reading here is a part of that.

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Allan Folz says March 19, 2018

I guess it depends, Dennis, on who your target audience is presumed to be, but for us regulars, I think your headline should be the opposite.

I’ve said before lifespan is 80 +10/-20, depending on environmental factors. (Asymmetry is also due to asymmetry of environmental factors — there’s a lot more we can do to hurt ourself than to help ourself.) Outside that range seems entirely the luck (good or bad) of one’s genes.

It seems like we’re all doing the things to insure we are in the +10 half of the curve, and _maybe_ as a demographic your readers can expect 90+/-5. But excepting Rapamycin (and maybe even with Rapamycin), I think it’s tough to assume anyone is going past 95 in a manner reasonably comparable to what they expect for themselves even at 90.

In contrast, I feel my health today (mid-40’s) is very comparable to how it was 5 years ago, and not too far off from what it was 10 years ago. I also think 5 & 10 years forward it is going to be very similar to now. Nor do I think I am at all alone in this regard. A lot of folks here and on ‘teh twit’ can also make this claim. However, I cannot imagine anyone north of 90 is. Or could.

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    Bill says March 20, 2018

    Allan I am 70. And I feel as good as I was in my early 50’s.What’s my secret ?
    No smoking, fast every week; take my anti aging supplements like melatonin etc; stay physically fit either with a bit of on the side casual work and/or by getting the gym; and eat well.- bugger all sugar and low levels of carbohydrates; lots of protein from fish, lamb meat and dairy foods; drink good coffee and the odd glass of red.
    And I almost forgot stay in the loop by checking out PD’s blog here etc.

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      Allan Folz says March 20, 2018

      Yep, great to hear. Sounds like we’re in agreement… vigor to 80+10.

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    Drifter says March 20, 2018

    Allan, the issue I see with what you are saying is that there are so few people doing most of the “right” things most of their life (in fact it is impossible since ARBs, ACE inhibitors, rapamycin, etc. have not been around long enough or their benefits sufficiently publicized) that a large enough population has not been studied to know what the potential for a long youthful life really is, but the fact there are people ninety plus and some of them are fairly youthful suggests much more is possible. Hopefully we can all be pioneers in that. I think we do know enough to say the infections are a big problem (and Cancer could partially be considered an infection.)

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      Paul Rivas says March 20, 2018

      That’s a very good point Drifter and we certainly don’t know what rapamycin and certain supplements like melatonin, ashwaghanda and white willow bark might do, add to that maybe NR, C 60, and whatever else we discover and who knows where it will lead.. As far as testosterone is concerned, Jeff seems to believe that most hormones, with the exception of progesterone, exhibit antagonistic pleiotropy in that they promote reproductive health in the young, but promote aging in the old.

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        Drifter says March 20, 2018

        Well, that’s a topic I’ve been quite interested in lately as I’ve been dealing with several injuries. I haven’t read the books you’re referring to, but my understanding of why strength and work capacity is strongly associated with anti-aging and longevity (somewhat related but by no means the same thing) is at least partially due to the anti-aging signaling that comes from myokines, and someone with symptomatically low testosterone or GH is going to have a much harder time maintaining their myokine signaling. That is something that the people who are anti-GH and anti-T don’t seem to address from what I’ve seen, and low T symptoms are not something I think anyone would want in return for more time breathing. And like IGF-1 it is probably a U shape, not a linear relationship. On a related note I’ve been trying different things to try and heal my issues and I have some rapamycin on the way so we should hopefully have another anecdote or two in another 6 months, thanks in part to the pioneering from people like you and Dennis’s outreach to Dr. Green.

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          paul rivas md says March 21, 2018

          Good luck on your rapamycin journey Drifter, I’ve been on it now for about 8 months and feel great with definite improvements in endurance,mood, weight, and most especially recovery times.

          A few hints: it may take 3 to 4 months to kick in, you may have an increase in your glucose which is quite benign, be careful with other mTOR inhibitoras like curcumin, green tea, resveratrol, and licorice. Your WBC’s may drop some as well as the size of your red blood cells but both of those are a good sign.
          Feel free to contact me as you go if you have questions. There aren’t many of us. Yet.

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          Drifter says March 21, 2018

          Thanks Paul! I appreciate the guidance.

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      Allan Folz says March 21, 2018

      I agree with you with the stipulation that it’s entirely speculation at this point. Informed speculation, and, hey, someone’s gotta be first, so why not us, but speculation nonetheless.

      We know these things improve quality of life, but we don’t know if they improve length of life. Even if we stipulate they do extend it, we have no idea by how much. 5-10 years seems the limit, unfortunately.

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      Allan Folz says March 21, 2018

      I agree with you with the stipulation that it’s entirely speculation at this point. Informed speculation, and, hey, someone’s gotta be first, so why not us, but speculation nonetheless.

      We know these things improve quality of life, but we don’t know if they improve length of life. Even if we stipulate they do extend it, we have no idea by how much. 5-10 years seems the limit, unfortunately.

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        paul rivas md says March 22, 2018

        I would say that there is no way to know the limit, it could be 5-10 years , or much much more. Just look at the basics first which in my mind is a good diet with regular exercise. Add to that vitamins D and K2 with magnesium.
        Now add to that some method to keep down ferritin/iron levels. Throw in some pine bark for nitric oxide production. Melatonin for sleep and thymus rejuvenation.
        At this point I can add in at least several things that have been shown in at least one species, and often several species, to give about a 20% increase in life extension: rapamycin… white willow bark…. ashwagandha…astaxanthin via foxo3.
        So my point is how many people do you think have done all of the above over a long period of time? If any of those things act in synergy then the life extension could be considerable.

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Steven Mitchell says April 2, 2018

Lifestyle changes may have a muted impact on quantity of living (to a point), but will provide an enormous different to quality of living. Once you lose your mobility you lose your independence. Who wants to live for a decade stuck in a wheel chair or bed?

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