TIME Research

Racism Could Negatively Impact Your Health, Study Finds

blood pressure
Getty Images

High blood pressure and kidney decline may be linked to feelings of discrimination

Feeling judged because of your race could have a negative impact on your physical health, a new study finds.

A team of researchers studied 1,574 residents of Baltimore as part of the Healthy Aging in Neighborhoods of Diversity across the Life Span study and found that 20% of the subjects reported feeling that they had been racially discriminated against “a lot.”

Even after the researchers adjusted the results for race, this group had higher systolic blood pressure than those who perceived only a little discrimination.

Over a five-year followup, the group who felt more racial discrimination also tended to have greater decline in kidney function. When the researchers, co-led by Deidra C. Crews, MD, assistant professor of medicine and chair of the diversity council at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, adjusted for age and lifestyle factors, the effect stayed constant for African-American women.

“Psychosocial stressors could potentially have an effect on kidney function decline through a number of hormonal pathways,” Dr. Crews said. The release of stress hormones can lead to an increase in blood pressure, and high blood pressure is one of the leading causes of kidney disease.

This isn’t the first time that perceived racial discrimination has been linked to chronic diseases: a 2011 study found that lifetime discrimination was linked to higher rates of hypertension.

MONEY

Here’s a New Reason to Think Twice Before Buying Long-term Care Insurance

woman helping woman with walker
Tom Grill—Getty Images

You'll likely need some form of long-term care in retirement. Too bad long-term care insurance isn't the right choice for most people.

It’s one of the biggest risks in retirement, and it’s one that hardly anyone is ready to face: long-term care costs. Some 70% of those over 65 end up needing some form of long-term care, which is likely to be costly.

What to do? One commonly recommended option is to purchase long-term care insurance, which would reimburse you for the cost of getting help with daily activities, including in-home health aides and nursing home care. But these policies are pricey, and few people buy them—only 13% of those eligible do so, according to some estimates. It’s a problem that researchers call the long-term care insurance puzzle.

Turns out, it’s not really a puzzle. That’s the conclusion of a new study by Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research, which found that long-term care insurance makes financial sense for far fewer people than originally thought—only about 20% of those eligible vs. earlier estimates of 30% to 40%. “Previous research has overstated the financial risks of going into nursing home care,” says study co-author Anthony Webb, senior research economist at the Center.

Make no mistake, long-term care is dangerously expensive. As a recent study by EBRI found, when you factor in long-term care costs, most lower-income households will run short of money in retirement, and even among middle-class and upper-income families, the odds of running short soar.

But the Center’s analysis, which focused on single individuals, found that the odds of requiring long, expensive stays in a nursing facility are lower than previously thought. By using longitudinal data, the Center found that individuals typically transition through different care stages—from living independently to needing some assistance to nursing home—and, often, back again. That brings down the odds of a long and costly stay in a facility, Webb says. (A typical nursing home costs $212 day or $77,000 a year, according to a recent survey.)

One factor not addressed by the study is that long-term care insurance is becoming a riskier purchase. After discovering that they had underestimated the likelihood that policyholders would file claims, many insurers have raised premiums or stopped selling this coverage altogether. Recently Genworth, one of the leading long-term care insurers, posted steep losses, and some analysts warned that its business outlook is dicey.

For most people it makes more sense to spend down their assets and rely on Medicaid rather than purchase long-term care insurance, the study found.”There’s a Medicaid crowd-out effect,” says Webb. (Many people mistakenly believe Medicare pays long-term care costs, but that program only covers short-term care.) Medicaid will pay for nursing home stays, as well as in-home care, for those with low incomes and few assets. Each state has its own eligibility rules. Most families end up spending down their assets before qualifying for Medicaid coverage.

Even if you never need a long nursing home stay, chances are you’ll need some form of in-home care, and that can be costly too—home health aides charge an average of $20 an hour. Most seniors end up relying on family for most of their at-home care.

What the Center’s study shows most clearly is that better options are needed. Studies have found that more people would be willing to purchase a supplemental policy that would transform Medicaid into a more comprehensive, means-tested insurance. Other experts are pushing for an expanded form of social insurance for long-term care. It’s unlikely, of course, that any major reforms are likely to happen soon.

Meanwhile, your best options is to plan ahead with your family about care—including living in a place that will make it easy to get around, receive services, and see friends. Living a healthy and happy life is one way to help reduce your chances of needing costly care in retirement.

Read next: Millions Fewer Americans Will Enroll in Obamacare Plans Than Predicted

TIME Aging

Here’s Where People Are Happiest Growing Old

old man old age happy
Getty Images

Happiness rises consistently from the mid-40s onward in the U.S.

Will you get happier as you grow older? That might depend on where you live, according to a new Lancet study.

On average, people in high-income English-speaking countries tend to maintain higher levels of wellbeing, but that experience isn’t consistent over time. As people in these countries age, life satisfaction tends to follow a U-shape. In their young days, people report being happy, but that feeling declines as they face increased responsibilities in their 20s and 30s. Finally, happiness rises consistently from the mid-40s onward.

Reported happiness trends look completely different in former Soviet countries, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. Happiness remained consistently low in Sub-Saharan Africa. Happiness began high in Latin America and declined slightly before leveling off in people’s 40s. In Russia and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, people see a precipitous decline in happiness as they age: it starts high, but dips consistently as they grow old.

“It’s not a great surprise that the elderly in those countries are doing really badly relative to the young people,” says study author Angus Deaton, a Princeton University professor. “The young people can do all sorts of things…whereas the old people have no future, and the system they believed in all their life is gone.”

The study also evaluated differences between regions in other metrics of wellbeing, like emotions and physical conditions. And there’s some good news for everyone: In most regions, people reported fewer emotional issues as they grew older.

“Many people have hypothesized that you just get emotionally more skilled when you get older,” says Deaton. “You make mistakes, and you learn.”

TIME Aging

Why Men Often Go Untreated For Osteoporosis

People often perceive the ailment as a "women's disease"

More than 2 million men suffer from osteoporosis, but health care workers and patients perceive the ailment as a disease that primarily affects women. A new study suggests that this perception may contribute to a widespread failure to test and treat men for osteoporosis, a disease that weakens bones and increases the likelihood of fractures.

The study, published in The Journal Of Bone & Joint Surgery, evaluated the medical records of 344 women and 95 men over the age of 50 treated for fractures at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. More than half of women evaluated received an osteoporosis screening, while only 18% of men in the same position were screened. After treatment for bone injury, only 21% of men began calcium and vitamin D treatments to help prevent osteoporosis.

“It’s traditionally been thought of as a women’s disease, and all of the attention has been on women after menopause,” said lead study author Tamara Rozental, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School. Rozental says that doctors and patients should both do more to raise awareness of the risk osteoporosis poses to men.

Evaluating data from only one hospital limits the scope of the study, but Rozental says they’re at the forefront of research and there aren’t yet large data sets to utilize.

The lack of screening carries increased risks for an aging population, Rozental adds: Falls are the leading cause of fatal injuries among adults over 65, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A third of older adults falls each year, but most do not seek adequate treatment afterward.

TIME Aging

16 Unexpected Ways to Add Years to Your Life

walking dog
Getty Images

Try these surprising habits that could help you live longer

The average American’s life expectancy is 78.7 years. Whether you reach that age—or better yet, exceed it—largely depends on your genes, but there are also many keys to longevity that are totally within your control. Some you probably already know about, like following a nutritious diet, exercising often, staying away from cigarettes, and maintaining a healthy weight. Other habits are a little less obvious. Read on for some surprising habits and lifestyle choices that could add years to your life.

Adopt a furry friend

Your four-legged companion may be helping you live a longer life, according to a review published in the journal Circulation. Researchers believe owning a dog might keep the owner more active and, as a result, lowers the risk of heart disease.

“Dog owners are who walk their dogs are more likely to meet recommendations for daily physical activity (150 minutes weekly),” says Eric A. Goedereis, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Webster University in St. Louis, MO. Owning a pet also reduces stress, which may decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease, he adds.

HEALTH.COM: 12 Ways Pets Improve Your Health

Have more sex

A roll in the hay may be the most pleasant way to extend your life. Several studies suggest there is a link between more orgasms and longevity. In a 1997 study, men who had more orgasms were less likely to die of heart disease than those who had less. While the study can’t prove cause and effect (maybe healthier people are more likely to have sex), sex can be beneficial for health. “Of course sex feels good, but it also gives us the opportunity to work out nearly every muscle in the body and connect with another person,” says Goedereis. “Sex has also been shown to boost the body’s immune response, reduce stress, and even control one’s appetite, among other things.” Two to three orgasms a week yields best benefits. Doctor’s orders.

HEALTH.COM:
13 Healthy Reasons to Have More Sex

Floss every day

Daily flossing not only gets rid of food trapped between your teeth but also removes the film of bacteria that forms before it has a chance to harden into plaque—something your toothbrush cannot do. Periodontal disease from lack of flossing can trigger low-grade inflammation, which increases the risk of early heart attack and stroke. Numerous studies link oral bacteria to cardiovascular disease. The American Dental Association recommends flossing at least once a day.

Have a positive attitude

Think being mean and ornery is what it takes to live to 100? That’s what scientists at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine in the Bronx, New York thought until they studied 243 centenarians. When the researchers assessed their personalities, they discovered that most had a positive outlook on life, and were generally easygoing, optimistic, and full of laughter.

If nothing else, try to laugh more often—go to comedy shows, take occasional breaks at work to watch silly videos on YouTube, or spend time with people who make you smile. “Laughter helps decrease blood pressure, reduce blood sugars, dull pain, and lower stress, all of which can make your body healthier,” says Elizabeth Lombardo, PhD, psychologist and author of Better than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love.

Be social

Going to the movies or out for coffee with friends may help all of you grow old together. An analysis by Brigham Young University looked at data from 148 studies and found a clear connection between social ties and lifespan. “People with stronger social relationships have a 50% greater chance of continued living as compared to those with weaker relationships,” says Lombardo. “Loneliness can also compromise your immune system, making it harder to fight off disease.”

HEALTH.COM: 12 Worst Habits for Your Mental Health

Go nuts

Snack on cashews, sprinkle chopped walnuts on your salad, stir almonds into your yogurt—however you eat them, it may be helpful. People who ate nuts several times a week had a reduced mortality risk compared with those who ate nuts less frequently (or at all), according to a 2013 New England Journal of Medicine study.

Nuts are high in antioxidants, fiber, and unsaturated fatty acids, and they help lower your risk of heart disease. “They are known to possibly improve certain risk factors for diabetes as well,” says Keri Gans, RD, a New York-based nutrition consultant. As a healthy but high-calorie snack, limit portion sizes to 1 ounce, or about 20 nuts.

Find your purpose

Regardless of your age, finding purpose in life may help you live long enough to make a difference. In a study of 6,000 people, researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, New York found that people who had a greater sense of purpose were less likely to die during the 14-year study than those who were less focused on a goal. “People who have a sense of purpose in their lives may be more likely to take steps to be healthier,” says Lombardo. To develop a sense of purpose, focus on the positive impact you are making at work or at home instead of getting caught up with every little detail being perfect, she suggests.

Start your mornings with coffee

Sipping a mug of coffee not only jumpstarts your day, but your longevity as well. Studies show coffee reduces the risk of a number of chronic diseases. “Drinking coffee may decrease your risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and Alzheimer’s disease,” says Gans. Just go easy: too much caffeine can trigger anxiety and insomnia, or interfere with calcium absorption. And hold the whipped toppings like syrups and cream to avoid canceling out the health benefits.

Snooze soundly

Quality of sleep also plays in role in how long you may live. Multiple studies have linked sleep deprivation with an increased risk of death, and other research has shown that a lack of shuteye may raise risk of type 2 diabetes. “Some people may need more or less sleep than others, but research suggests that seven hours is probably enough,” says Goedereis. To sleep soundly, establish a nighttime routine and stick to a schedule, even on weekends.

See the glass as half full

An Illinois study found clear evidence that happy people experience better health and live longer than their unhappy peers. “Depression, pessimism, and stress predict shorter lifespans,” says Lombardo. “These mental states tend to cause a stress reaction within the body, which can weaken the immune system. Happiness, on the other hand, tends to result in less stress hormones.” Take time to experience gratitude every day. “It’s one of the quickest and longest-lasting ways to boost happiness,” she adds.

Ditch soda

Even if you’re not overweight, drinking soda may be shortening your lifespan, according to a study in the American Journal of Public Health. The five-year study found a link between soda intake and shortening of the telomeres, which are caps on the ends of chromosomes directly linked to aging. Telomeres shorten each time a cell divides and are thought to be an aging “clock.” This study did not find the same link with diet soda, but other research has associated heavy diet soda drinking to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and depression—all potential life-shorteners.

HEALTH.COM: 10 Reasons to Give Up Diet Soda

Have a little bit of wine every day

Drinking a little less than one glass of wine a day is linked to a lower rate of cardiovascular death from all causes when compared to abstaining from all alcohol, according to a Dutch study. Researchers found that light alcohol consumption resulted in longer life expectancy at age 50. Drinking less than or equal to 20 grams per day of alcohol (that’s a little less than a serving of beer, wine, or spirits) was associated with a 36% lower risk of all causes of death and a 34% lower risk of cardiovascular death. And sorry, beer and cocktail fans: the same results were not found with light-to-moderate alcohol intake of other types.

Run 5 minutes a day

No need to run for an hour a day to reap the life-lengthening benefits. A new study shows running just 5 to 10 minutes a day increases your life expectancy by reducing the risk of death from heart disease by 58% and dropping the overall risk of death by 28%. It holds true even if you’re a slowpoke. Those who ran at less than 6 miles per hour only once or twice a week experienced clear benefits, the researchers reported in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Researchers credit better lung and heart function with the extended lifespan. Consistency works best, however: Exercisers who ran regularly for an average of six years reaped the greatest benefits.

Eat lots of fish

A diet heavy in omega-3-rich foods may add years to your life, says a study from the Annals of Internal Medicine. In the study of more than 2,600 adults, those with the highest blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids—found in salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, and lake trout—lived more than two years longer on average than those with lower blood levels. The study didn’t prove that being a fish-eater increases longevity, but suggests a connection. Researchers found that people with high omega-3 levels reduced their overall risk of death by any cause by up to 27% compared to those with the lowest levels, and that they had a 35% lower risk of dying from heart disease. Experts recommend at least two 3.5-ounce servings of fish a week.

Stop sitting so much

Simply stand up more during the day and you’ll boost your longevity by increasing the length of your telomeres, according to a study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The study measured the effects of sitting time and physical activity among 49 sedentary, overweight participants. Researchers found increased telomere length—end caps of chromosomes that link directly to longevity—in the red blood cells of individuals participating in a 6-month physical activity intervention.

Volunteer

Helping others not only feels good, it may help you live longer, too. A review of data from 40 published papers found a 20% lower risk of death than non-volunteers. The findings, published in the journal BMC Public Health, found that those who volunteered experienced lower levels of depression, better life satisfaction, and overall enhanced wellbeing. Another study found that retirees who volunteered at least 200 hours in the prior year were less likely to develop high blood pressure than non-volunteers, lowering their risk of heart disease. Lend a hand for a win-win result.

This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME Research

Cocoa May Help With Memory Loss, a New Study Finds

107502071
Getty Images

But don't break out the chocolate bars just yet

It’s everybody’s favorite kind of health discovery: something delicious and seemingly sinful — red wine, chocolate, coffee — turns out to be good for you, according to new research.

The latest installment in this brand of happy news comes from a study out of Columbia University that finds that flavanols, a component of cocoa (a principle ingredient in chocolate) can actually reverse at least one aspect of memory loss associated with normal aging.

The small but intriguing study involved 37 healthy individuals, ages 50 to 69. Half were asked to consume a drink loaded with 450 mg of cocoa flavanols twice a day for three months. The other half got just 10 mg daily—about a quarter the amount in one candy bar.

Both groups were evaluated with a memory test and brain scans at the start of the study, and after three months of downing their respective potions. Researchers — led by Scott Small, professor of neurology at Columbia’s Taub Institute for Research on Alzheimer’s Disease and the Aging Brain, and his colleagues, Adam Brickman and Richard Sloan—found that the high-flavanol group showed a remarkably improved performance on a test of visual memory: the equivalent of a 60-year-old performing like a 30-year-old.

The test involves looking at a series of abstract shapes and determining whether the pattern of squiggly lines is the same as or different than one presented earlier. In this study, Dr. Small and his colleagues show that the ability to quickly perform this task declines at a predictable rate with advancing age.

“This test reflects the kind of complaints I hear from relatively healthy older individuals who say, ‘If I met someone new today, I’m not sure I would recognize them on the street tomorrow,’” Small explains. It tests the ability to form new memories as opposed to summoning up old information (which can be another issue for older adults).

Study participants were also examined in a functional magnetic resonance (fMRI) scanner. Small and his colleagues zeroed in on a structure called the dentate gyrus, located in the hippocampus, a brain region that plays a major role in memory. Previous research in both mice and humans has shown that decreased activity in the dentate gyrus is associated with the typical decline in memory seen as people age. (This is not, however, the spot in the hippocampal region where Alzheimer’s disease first strikes.)

As it turned out, the fMRI studies lined up neatly with the memory test results. People in the high-flavanol group showed much greater blood volume in the dentate gyrus — a measure of brain connectivity and processing ability. It, too, was on the order of gaining decades of function.

“I think it provides proof of principle that diet could potentially reverse an aging process,” says Small, who is working on a larger follow-up study.

Precisely what biological magic the cocoa components are working is not entirely clear, but recent research provides some clues. Studies have shown that cocoa flavanols help keep blood vessels supple as opposed to hardening over time. It could be that they perform this function in the brain. Flavanols also have anti-inflammatory effects that might be part of the explanation.

A number of small studies have linked the nutrients to lower risks of heart disease, hypertension, stroke and diabetes. These studies are sufficiently compelling that the National Institutes of Health is co-funding a massive study of cocoa flavanols — involving 18,000 men and women — that will kick off in early 2015.

“The cocoa flavanols are very promising and exciting in terms of their potential role for preventing heart disease, stroke and other vascular outcomes,” says Dr. JoAnn Manson, a professor at Harvard Medical School and chief of the Division of Preventive Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, who will be co-directing the study with her colleague Howard Sesso.

The five-year study, tagged with the acronym COSMOS (for Cocoa Supplement and Multivitamins Outcomes Study),will primarily focus on cardiovascular disease, but Manson is seeking funding for additional arms that will provide extremely detailed data on how the nutrients impact memory and cognition, as well as other health problems. The Columbia study, she says, strengthens the case for further investigation of the effects on memory and cognitive decline.

Among the funders of both COSMOS and the Columbia research is Mars Inc., the world’s biggest candymaker. It already has a cocoa-flavanol supplement called CocoaVia on the market, and will be well positioned to sell other products to the public should the virtues of flavanols be confirmed by new studies.

Don’t want to wait until the 2020s for the final word on flavanols from COSMOS? Don’t just go out and load up on chocolate bars, warns Small. Many types of flavanols are eliminated by chocolate-manufacturing processes. And, besides, you’d need about 25 bars a day to get anything close to the level of flavanols used in his study.

“I’m a physician, and that’s not what I’m recommending,” he says.

Read next: 12 Unexpected Things That Mess With Your Memory

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Soda May Age You as Much as Smoking, Study Says

The link between soda and telomere length

Nobody would mistake sugary soda for a health food, but a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health just found that a daily soda habit can age your immune cells almost two years.

Senior study author Elissa Epel, PhD, professor of psychiatry at University of California San Francisco, wanted to look at the mechanisms behind soda’s storied link to conditions like diabetes, heart attack, obesity, and even higher rates of death. She studied telomeres, the caps at the end of chromosomes in every cell in our body, from white blood cells. Shorter telomeres have been linked to health detriments like shorter lifespans and more stress, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer, the study notes.

Epel and her team analyzed data from 5,309 adults in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) from about 14 years ago. They found that people who drank more sugary soda tended to have shorter telomeres. Drinking an 8-ounce daily serving of soda corresponded to 1.9 years of additional aging, and drinking a daily 20-ounce serving was linked to 4.6 more years of aging. The latter, the authors point out, is exactly the same association found between telomere length and smoking.

Only the sugary, bubbly stuff showed this effect. Epel didn’t see any association between telomere length and diet soda intake. “The extremely high dose of sugar that we can put into our body within seconds by drinking sugared beverages is uniquely toxic to metabolism,” she says.

She also didn’t see a significant link between non-carbonated sugary beverages, like fruit juice, which Epel says surprised her. But she thinks the results might be different if the data were more modern. “We think that the jury’s still out on sugared beverages—theoretically they’re just as bad,” she says. “But 14 years ago people were drinking a lot less sugared beverages…they were mostly drinking soda.” At the time of the study, 21% of adults in the study reported consuming 20 ounces or more of sugar-sweetened soda each day, but soda consumption has been on the decline for years.

Telomere length dwindles naturally as we age, but it may not be an irreversible process. Previous research shows that it’s possible to increase telomere length by as much as 10% over 5 years by stressing less and eating a healthy diet—no soda included.

Read next: Here’s How to Stop Teens From Drinking Soda

TIME Aging

How to Talk About The End of Your Life

The toughest conversation might also be the most important

The video of Brittany Maynard, 29, describing her choice to move to Oregon for the right to end her life due to her terminal cancer has received well over 7 million views. It’s also left many people shocked, saddened and inspired by her decision.

“I am not suicidal. If I were, I would have consumed that medication long ago. I do not want to die. But I am dying. And I want to die on my own terms,” Maynard wrote on CNN.com.

Talking about death—and the circumstances surrounding it—is uncomfortable for most people. But my colleague Lily Rothman, 28, just wrote her will. “My eventual death was something I’d been mentioning to lots of people, on Facebook and at engagement parties and at my high-school reunion,” she writes. “It wasn’t that I thought death was going to come any time soon or in any special way, it’s just that, as they say on Game of Thrones, all men must die.”

MORE: 5 Tips For Families Facing End-Of-Life Care

Many people argue that it’s time we had more conversations about the end of life and how we want to go. It’s a conversation that can become awkward, especially for adult children bringing it up to their parents, but it allows people to avoid having to make very difficult decisions at the most sensitive times. “It’s critically important for us to have these conversations at the kitchen table,” says Ellen Goodman, founder of The Conversation Project, a nonprofit organization that campaigns for the expression and respect of wishes for end-of-life care. “Too many people are not dying in the way that they choose, and we need to change that.”

Goodman, who had to make medical decisions for her dying mother that they had never discussed beforehand, also created the Conversation Starter Kit, which you can download for free. So far, people in 50 states and 176 countries have downloaded the kit. That’s great news, considering about 90% of Americans believe it’s important to talk about their end-of-life care wishes and those of their loved ones, but only 30% actually have those discussions, according to the Conversation Project. “We would hope that this really tragic story of [Brittany Maynard] has an outcome that will really help people talk about these issues,” says Goodman.

Here are some other preparations you might consider if preparing an end-of-life checklist, from the National Institute on Aging:

  • A living will, which records a person’s wishes for medical treatment near the end of life.
  • Designating a durable power of attorney for health care, which names a person, sometimes called an agent or proxy, to make health care decisions when a person can no longer do so.
  • Talking about a do-not-resuscitate (DNR) order, which instructs health care professionals not to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation if a person’s heart stops or if he or she stops breathing. A DNR order is signed by a doctor and put in a person’s medical chart.
  • Writing a will—a document that indicates how a person’s assets and estate will be distributed upon death.
  • Naming a durable power of attorney for finances, someone to make financial decisions when the person no longer can. It can help terminally ill people and their families avoid court actions that may take away control of financial affairs.
  • Penning a living trust, which provides instructions about the person’s estate and appoints someone, often referred to as the trustee, to hold the title to property and funds for the beneficiaries. The trustee follows these instructions after the person can no longer manage his or her affairs.
TIME Aging

5 Reasons Why Women Live Longer Than Men

Pink stethoscope with female symbol
Getty Images

Life expectancy in the U.S. is at an all-time high, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And while the news that we’re living, on average, to the ripe old age of 78 years and 9 ½ months isn’t that surprising, there is one stat that is: A girl born in 2012 can expect to live to 81.2 years—almost 5 years longer than a boy baby born the same year, who’s likely live to age 76.4. Weaker sex, indeed.

“Men are biologically and sociologically at a disadvantage from the time they’re conceived to the time they die,” says Marianne Legato, MD, professor emerita of clinical medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and founder and director of the Foundation for Gender-Specific Medicine. Here’s why:

Females are tougher in utero

Two and a half as many boys are conceived as girls, Dr. Legato says, but they’re so much more likely to succumb to prenatal infection or other issues in the womb that by the time they’re born, the ratio is close to one to one. “They’re also slower to develop physically than girls prenatally, which means they’re more likely to die if they are preemies due to underdeveloped lung or brain development,” Dr. Legato explains.

HEALTH.COM: 10 Biggest Myths About the Flu

Women are less likely to be daredevils

Unintentional injuries are the third leading cause of death in men, according to the CDC; for women it’s only the sixth. Again, you can blame it on biology: The frontal lobes of the brain—which deal with responsibility and risk calculation—develop much more slowly in males than females, Dr. Legato says.

The result: Guys often take many more risks (which you probably already realize if your small son has taken one too many spins off his bike handlebars). “Almost inevitably, a male will take risks that a woman of his same age wouldn’t take,” Dr. Legato says.

Women succumb to heart disease later

Heart disease is the leading killer of both men and women, but men are more likely to develop it—and die from it—as early as their 30s and 40s. Women, on the other hand, typically develop heart disease 10 years later than men. They’re protected from it until menopause, since their bodies churn out estrogen, which helps keep arteries strong and flexible, says Dr. Legato.

HEALTH.COM: 15 Weird Things Linked to Heart Attacks

Women have stronger social networks

Friends make good medicine: People with strong social connections have a 50% lower chance of dying than those with few social ties, according to a 2010 study at Brigham Young University. “Most men tend to hold their stress and worries close to their chest, while women tend to reach out and talk to others,” Dr. Legato explains. The one exception: married men, which also explains why so many studies show that they’re likely to be healthier and live longer.

HEALTH.COM: How Friends Make You Healthier

Women take better care of their health

Men are 24% less likely than women to have visited a doctor within the past year and are 22% more likely to skip out on cholesterol testing, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. In fact more than a quarter (28%) of men don’t have a regular physician and about one in five didn’t have health insurance in 2012, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

You can blame it on the so-called John Wayne syndrome: “Men often deny illness; they minimize symptoms because they don’t want to go to a doctor and find out something is wrong,” Dr. Legato notes.

HEALTH.COM: 10 Worst States for Women’s Health

This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME women

My Hair Will Never Go Gray, and It’s Lame

Gray hair
Getty Images

It’s a “blessing” of genetics, but I’m starting to question how much of a blessing it is

xojane

This story originally appeared on xoJane.com.

I know you’re laughing at the title, because I’ve heard that laugh before. The one that says “You’ll understand when you’re older.”

I heard that laugh a lot the time I grew a single strand of silver, courtesy of an upper management change at my job that made things unbearably stressful.

“This job is literally killing me!” I’d tell my friends. “I have a gray hair! I’M NOT SUPPOSED TO HAVE A GRAY HAIR!”

“Oh, it’ll have friends soon enough!” they said, laughing condescendingly. But I wasn’t upset because it was a sign of age. I was upset because it was a sign of overwhelming stress. My best friend plucked it because I wouldn’t shut up about it. Now I wish he had left it.

I’m about to turn 36, and that’s the only gray hair I’ve ever had. After I escaped from that job, it even grew back brown. My mother, at 56, has never even had one. Her mother didn’t go gray until the illness that took her life in her 70s. (My father’s side, for the record, goes salt-and-pepper in their 20s, so I know I don’t take after him.) It’s a “blessing” of genetics, but I’m starting to question how much of a blessing it is.

It doesn’t help that, regardless of my hair color, I looked 17 at 25 and now look 25 at 35. I live in a big college city and people constantly assume I’m a student. I spent most of my 20s trying to reassure people I was actually legal. I keep my driver’s license handy so I can whip it out as proof that I’m not a kid. A bouncer at a club once was intent on finding the flaw that proved my ID was fake or at the very least belonged to my older sister. A friend who I graduated high school with was, on multiple occasions, mistaken for my father. Another friend joked that he assumed anyone who dated me was a closet pedophile.

People always said I’d appreciate my youthful looks when I was older, but honestly, I’m still not seeing it.

Because looking much younger than you are — not just for a night out partying but every single day — really, really sucks. There’s a respect that comes with age that I don’t receive. I have an untraditional life — I’m a lesbian, I’m taking some single time after spending most of my life in serious relationships with men thanks to self-denial, and I just don’t want to have children. Maybe if I had some gray hairs, people who are even younger than me would stop telling me I’ll change my mind and want to settle down to have a family someday.

No, my sleep-all-day, work-all-night solo lifestyle is the result of conscious decisions based on many years of valid life experience and not just juvenile whim.

And what do I get out of looking young? Being more attractive to younger men? I’m an introverted lesbian with an anxiety disorder. I’d much prefer to be occasionally taken seriously.

I could live with my baby face if I just had some gray hair to offset it. Most people who look younger than they are eventually get that much to balance it out. But not me. I’m “blessed” with a lifetime of not being taken seriously, of having my choices dismissed, of even getting passed up for promotions because of vague claims that I wasn’t respected enough. Nature, throw me a bone here!

I know a lot of people, especially women, hate going gray. But I for one could really go for some of that visible aging right about now.

J. J. Ulm is a fiction writer living in Ohio.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser