Why Do Women Usually Outlive Men?

Find out why women usually live longer than men, plus get tips on how men can lengthen their lives.

elderly man and woman photo credit: shutterstock

Why do women outlive men?

Most centenarians are women—in fact, they outnumber men four to one. That’s thanks to behavioural, biological, social and psychological differences between the sexes, researchers say. (Find out this woman’s secret to being named the world’s oldest person at 117-years-old.) Here are some of the ways men and women differ:

Men take more chances.

They are more likely to die from reckless or unhealthy behaviour or violence, particularly when they’re young (15 to 24) or middle-aged (55 to 64). Sex hormones may also impact men’s health. Starting around middle age, declining levels of testos­terone are thought to increase ‘bad’ cholesterol and decrease ‘good’ cholesterol, making men more vulnerable to heart disease and stroke.

Men have faster clocks.

Because of men’s faster metabolic rate, their ‘ticking clocks’ may run faster, become more vulnerable to breakdown and stop sooner.

Women have built-in protection.

Women have the heart-protecting advantage of estrogen at least until menopause. It acts as an antioxidant, neutralizing the free radicals that damage cells and accelerate aging. Our monthly menstrual cycle may also help us shed excess iron stores in our bodies, which contribute to the formation of free radicals. Some diseases can even be detected through smell now.

Women linger longer.

Women tend to have more chronic disorders (such as arth­ritis, osteoporosis and auto­immune problems) and men have more fatal conditions, such as heart disease. (And there are probably a few things you don’t know about heart disease.) That’s not to say more women aren’t dying of heart disease than ever before, just that the proportion of fatal diseases is higher among men overall. And more women end up living with their diseases than dying from them. Speaking of living longer, these are Canada’s 10 greatest health discoveries.

Women have genetic help

There’s a gene on the X chromosome that is critical to DNA repair. Men, who have only one X chromosome, have limited capacity for this kind of repair. Women have two X chromosomes, and the second one may compensate if genes on the first become damaged with age.

Tips for longevity:

So what are the things both men and women can do to boost the odds of living a long and healthy life? Our suggestions are not that surprising—see the list below—but they’re always worth repeating because they are proven to have an impact on our longevity. And remember, making even small changes can help slow the aging process and maintain good health.

Increase your fruit and vege­table consumption. Eating five or more servings a day may cut the risk of several types of cancer, especially of the gastrointestinal tract.

Add fish to the menu. Eating fish once or twice a week can cut your risk of having a fatal heart attack by more than a third. It may also reduce the risk of several cancers and ease the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.

Supplement your diet. Vitamin B12 deficiencies can result in dementia and memory loss, so make sure you’re getting enough. Boost calcium intake, too, to guard against osteo­porosis. And taking a multi­vitamin containing folic acid daily may help to cut the risk of colon cancer.

Walk. Do it vigorously for at least 30 minutes, five times a week. It helps prevent osteoporosis and can substantially cut the risk of premature death.

Get enough sleep. It will strengthen your immune system. Inadequate sleep (five hours or less a night) may increase overall mortality risk by as much as 15 percent. Men typically get a better night’s sleep than women and this is why.

Bulk up. Fibre cuts your risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease, and may help you lose weight. Eat food with at least five grams of fibre per serving daily.

Next, read up on these proven ways to live a happier and longer life. 

Originally Published in Best Health Canada