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Americans' Life Expectancy Rises Dramatically

Life expectancy in certain parts of the world has fallen dramatically -- as much as 50 percent in some countries. That's according to a World Health Organization official who spoke at an international AIDS conference in South Africa. VOA's Carol Pearson reports this startling information comes as figures show life expectancy in the U.S. is significantly higher.

Life expectancy for Americans is the highest it has ever been. The average American born today can now expect to live almost 78 years. Americans are living longer and the number of deaths is declining. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says total deaths decreased almost 50,000 between 2003 and 2004. Robert Anderson, at the National Center for Health Statistics, says the decline in deaths is nationwide and, "This is the biggest drop in the number of deaths since about 1938."

The numbers surprised everyone, even the researchers.

"You would expect with an aging population for the number of deaths to increase, just because the population is older and people at older ages have higher death rates," says Mr. Anderson.

American women still live longer than American men, but the gap has narrowed to five years, the same number as the gap between whites and blacks, which has also decreased.

Dr. Robert Butler is with the International Longevity Center. He says, "The older age group pays much more attention to their health, much more physical activity, and the availability of certain significant medications like statins that lower cholesterol levels."

The leading causes of death are still heart disease, cancer and stroke, but the numbers of Americans dying from these diseases has declined dramatically: fewer Americans smoke and more older Americans are mindful of getting exercise.

"The truth is, people in their 70s and 80s are exercising, going to Pilates, and have health trainers," says Dr. Butler.

Louann Nockles is 72 years old. She doesn't have a trainer... she is one. "I walk to the gym every morning -- at 4:30 in the morning -- to open the gym."

It's the kind of lifestyle choice experts say is making a huge difference for thousands of older Americans.