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As diseases are managed, human lifespans keep getting longer and longer. Despite the reality of diseases caused by modern lifestyle, at no time in history have human beings had longer life expectancies than they do today.

I personally am a good example of how modern medicine is leading to longer lifespans.

Five years ago I was bitten by a rabid bat. The poor creature spiraled down from the sky, bit me hard on the ear, and fell to the pavement, dying of a seizure then and there. A few hours later I was in an ER getting the first of 12 rabies serum and vaccine injections, almost painlessly, saving me from a high likelihood of a gruesome death.

Having a virus and a vaccine battle it out in your body, however, is not without complications.

Previously told I had absolutely no signs of vascular disease, two months later I had a blood clot in an artery leading to my colon. Even now, many people die of bowel ischemia, or have to have emergency colostomies that change their lives forever, but I didn't have to have either. I was unwell for another year, but I emerged intact.

Modern Medicine Repairs Its Own Side Effects

Then, having been told repeatedly my heart was in great shape, I had a widowmaker heart attack. In the 1990's, my father had been the first person in a major hospital system ever to survive a complete blockage of the left anterior descending artery. I not only survived, but I could walk around my room the same day.

Then I had six painless surgeries, all of which I even watched on a screen in real time, to repair damaged arteries. I also survived two strokes and a brain aneurysm with no long-term damage. My grandfather had had stroke and/or a brain aneurysm in 1958. He lived only a few minutes.

Modern medicine, for some of us, is miraculous. And so many people enjoy good health that life expectancies all over the world are still going up.

Just How Long Can People Expect to Live?

As this article is being written, the latest data on longevity and life span for Americans (for 2012), released by the National Center for Health Statistics, find that:

  • At birth, a baby girl born in the USA has a life expectancy of 81.2 years. A woman who has reached the age of 65, however, can expect to live another 20.5 years, to the age of 85.5.
  • At birth, a baby boy born in the USA has a life expectancy of 76.4 years. A man who has reached the age of 65 can expect to live another 17.9 years, to the age of 82.9.
Some people will not live to the average lifespan, of course, but many will live much longer.

In the US, the good news is that gaps in longevity among different ethnic and racial groups have become much narrower. Statistics from 2011 show that Hispanics have the greatest life expectancy among Americans who reach the age of 65, another 20.7 years (age 85.7), whites follow with 19.2 years (age 84.2), and African-Americans are slightly behind with an average life expectancy of 18 years at age 65 (age 83). Death rates from Alzheimer's, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, have all fallen off, while only death rates from suicide have increased.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Jiaquan Xu, M.D.
  • Kenneth D. Kochanek, M.A.
  • Sherry L. Murphy, B.S.
  • Elizabeth Arias, Ph.D. Mortality in the United States, 2012. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed 25 October 2014.
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  • Photo courtesy of Arileu via Flickr:

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