Life Expectancy of Our Ancestors Versus Our Life Expectancy

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by Whitney Ransom McGowan

Today we live in a wonderful world filled with modern medicines. We also can easily obtain access to information regarding health. Yesterday I stumbled upon an article titled, “Live to 90: 5 Lifestyle Factors for Longevity.” My first thought was, “Wow! I bet my ancestors would have loved to get their hands on this article.” The five factors that were mentioned were:

1. Don’t smoke—Non-smokers were twice as likely to see 90 as smokers.2. Keep a healthy weight—Obese people had a 44 percent increase in the chance of death before age 90.
3. Maintain good blood pressure control—High blood pressure increased the chance of death before 90 by 28 percent.
4. Exercise regularly—Men who exercise reduced their death risk before 90 by 20 to 30 percent (depending on how much and how often they exercise).
5. No diabetes—Diabetics increased the chance of death before 90 by 86 percent.

Today, life expectancy has risen to more than 77 years. However, the life expectancy of your ancestors was much lower. For example, just 100 year ago,the average life expectancy was 47 years. The five leading causes of death were:

1. Pneumonia and influenza
2. Tuberculosis
3. Diarrhea
4. Heart disease
5. Stroke

Today, the leading causes of death include heart disease (the number four cause of death more than 100 years ago) and cancer (not included in the top five causes— possibly because the average life span of someone living today has increased). According to Science Daily, cancer is projected to become the leading cause of death worldwide in the year 2010. Here are a few things to keep in mind when searching for your ancestors and trying to determine either their reason for death, or even their lifespan.

1. If your ancestor had a very short lifespan, he or she might have lived in harsh conditions or had health problems.
2. Women usually died earlier than men, primarily because of the rigors of bearing children.
3. Herbal remedies were frequently used prior to the advent of modern medicine.
4. Old newspapers can provide leads on the lifespan of your ancestors.
5. Particularly before the nineteenth century, epidemic diseases affected many communities.
6. Many people died at their homes instead of at hospitals. has a large collection of birth, marriage, and death records. We hope you will be able to find information about your ancestors using these databases, along with information regarding the longevity of your ancestors:

One Response to “Life Expectancy of Our Ancestors Versus Our Life Expectancy”

  1. Roger Marble says:

    Any studies that indicate which ancestors and how many generations can be used to help predict your life expectancy?

    i.e. if male just your male line as far as you can

    or do you just average your 2 parents and 4 grandparents

    or avg ?????

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