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Why Women Are Losing the Aging Battle

New research suggests women may live longer than men, but their active life expectancy is losing ground comparatively.

Mar 17 2016

Women often hold court in the aging game: whether it’s lathering on the beauty products that reduce the signs of aging, or boasting a longer life expectancy, women seem to come out ahead of men as they age. However, new research suggests the quality of those years may actually fall short.

A study conducted by the National Institute on Aging, published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that men’s active life expectancy at age 65 increased more than women’s over a 30-year period. Using Medicare disabilities trends data from 1982, 2004 and 2011, researchers found that men’s active life expectancy at age 65 increased by more than four years, while women’s active life expectancy at age 65 increased by only 1.4 years.

What is Active Life Expectancy?

If you are reaching to Google the definition of “active life expectancy,” don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. The measurement quantifies the number of years a person can expect to live independently or free from significant disabilities. Researchers found that while older men now tend to live longer and experience disability later in life, older women have experienced significantly smaller increases in life expectancy and even smaller postponements in disability. This means that, despite living longer, women can no longer expect to maintain an active life for as long as men.

What Can Women Do?

When it comes to living a full and active life, nutrition and exercise are central to fueling wellness and increasing quality of life.

“Understanding what it means to age well is especially important today – for the first time in history, most people worldwide are expected to live into their sixties and beyond,” said Abby Sauer, MPH, RD, dietitian with Abbott. “As people look to lead longer, more active and healthier lifestyles as they age, it’s more important than ever to maintain strength and good nutrition habits.”

Research shows women are more likely than men to develop a number of debilitating conditions including arthritis, depressive symptoms, fall-related fractures, and Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias that have implications for active life. Many of these ailments also see a high correlation with malnutrition risk, so focusing on both nutrition and exercise is important as we age.

The nutrition from foods not only keep us energized, but also can help combat the disabling effects of muscle loss. Often incorrectly considered an unstoppable aspect of aging, muscle loss can severely impact quality of life as it decreases physical strength and energy and increases fatigue. Muscle health can play a big role in helping you live a longer and better life.

“Our bodies require a variety of important nutrients to support overall health and muscle strength as we age, but general evidence shows that nine out of 10 aging adults do not consume the recommended levels of many of those nutrients,” said Sauer. “It is important to eat a variety of foods to get the nutrients needed nutrients – no single food will provide everything you need for good health.”

The good news: It’s never too late to reduce muscle loss and adopt a healthier, more active lifestyle. Here are a five ways to stay strong as you get older.