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Why Do Women Live Longer Than Men?

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Updated June 04, 2008

It’s a phenomena seen in every population and every country: women live longer than men by 4 to 5 years everywhere. At first people tried to explain this fact by saying that men did more dangerous things and therefore died younger. Men ride motorcycles, don’t go see the doctor and just take more risks. When the statisticians got done with the data, though, these explanations didn’t really explain much. It seems women just live longer. In fact, men are around five times more likely to die from cardiovascular problems than women. Why could this be happening?

Women, Life Expectancy and the Female Body

Researchers in the Netherlands think they may have an answer: menstruation. It seems that when women menstruate, they release a hormone called "estradiol." This hormone basically gives the heart a workout. During the second half of a menstrual cycle (and during pregnancy), the female cardiac output increases around 20%. This increase is equivalent to what happens when someone exercises. So basically the female heart gets a sustained workout for a few days every month. The result? Less cardiac problems than men (at least that is what these researchers are suggesting).

Is That the Whole Story?

No. The female body also has some genetic differences that may protect against aging, but the estradiol-heart health link may form an important part of the life-expectancy equation.

Source:

Eskes T, Haanen C. Why do women live longer than men? Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2007 Aug; 133(2)126-133.

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