Columnists Health Health Matters

HEALTH MATTERS: Achieving life expectancy for an aging population

According to the National Center for Health Statistics 2016 report, Americans can expect to live for 78.6 years. It may seem to be a long time, but the life expectancy rate has declined for two years in a row (2016 and 2017). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report women live five more years than men at 81 years old.

The National Center listed the top causes of death as heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, kidney disease, unintentional injuries, which include accidental drug overdoses, Alzheimer’s disease and suicide.

If you want to extend your life expectancy, data shows spending more time outdoors can help you live longer.

“Being outdoors with nature may help you live to be 100,” said CNN’s Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. “There is plenty of data that proves that living creatures need to be spending time outdoors.”

A Harvard study found that women who live in the greenest areas had a 12 percent reduced risk of early death than those who didn’t.

“If you are outside as opposed to inside, there is one absolute benefit you will get and that you are less likely to be sitting,” Dr. Gupta said. “Sitting is the new smoking and there is an easy way to avoid it.”

Smoking contributes to heart disease, osteoporosis, emphysema and other chronic lung problems and stroke.

Clayton Lemelle spent most of his life outdoors. The avid gardener and grower of a variety of fruit trees was my father. As a native of Louisiana, he was no stranger to farming, nature and the benefits of being outdoors.

He strongly believed in eating fresh vegetables and fruits, many of which he grew in his backyard, on a daily basis and as often as three times a day.

He was not a smoker but there were risk factors from family medical history that contributed to his medical condition. After retiring from the city of Los Angeles, he experienced periodic fainting spells.

After about 18 months, the doctors determined that his heart was not adequately pumping blood. He received a pacemaker, which resolved the problem. Heart problems run in his family.

A few years later, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. It was stage 1. He underwent radiation and he remained in remission. Cancer runs in his family.

Last year, at the age of 83, he had his spleen removed. A few weeks later he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. After six months of chemotherapy, he underwent a PET scan.

Source: National Foundation for Infectious Diseases

The weeks leading up to the PET scan, he experienced fever and chills, cough and shortness of breath. He had a flu vaccination.

“I have a head cold,” he said.

When he returned to the doctor to get the results of his PET scan, the good news was he was in remission. The bad news was he had Flu A and pneumonia. He was admitted immediately.

“Your father is stronger than most,” said Dr. John L. Liang, an oncologist at Kaiser Permanente in Baldwin Park.

Unfortunately, his breathing was difficult and a ventilator was the only option. After of few days of breathing with the help of the ventilator, he died of acute hypoxemic respiratory failure and bleomycin pulmonary toxicity. He was 84 years old, past the life expectancy of males in the United States.

Studies show keeping your mind and body fit lead to an active and rewarding life. My dad was a daily reader and stayed active by keeping connected with family and friends through social media and talking on the phone.

My father maintained a healthy weight throughout his lifetime. His garden was an abundance of organic food that helped keep him strong throughout his many medical challenges.

The Harvard Medical School offers tips for a longer life:

  • Don’t smoke.
  • Enjoy physical and mental activities every day.
  • Eat a healthy diet rich in whole grains, vegetables and fruits.
  • Take a daily multivitamin.
  • Maintain a healthy weight and body shape.
  • Challenge your mind.
  • Build a strong social network.
  • Follow preventive care.
  • Floss, brush and see a dentist regularly.

My dad’s life-long actions may have contributed to increased odds of a longer and more satisfying life span. It’s one of the many valuable lessons I learned from him.


Harvard Medical School –

National Center for Health Statistics –

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention –

National Foundation for Infectious Diseases –

Marie Y. Lemelle, MBA, a public relations consultant, is the owner of Platinum Star PR and can be reached on Twitter @PlatinumStar or Instagram @PlatinumStarPR. Send “Health Matters” related questions to and look for her column in The Wave. Health Matters will be on hiatus until further notice. Marie Lemelle can be reached at m.lemelle@att,net