Contrary to what you might think, life expectancy charts don’t tell you much about how long you, specifically, have to live. They predict how long you, your next-door neighbor, the president, Larry Bird, and a million other men have to live-72.4 years-but that’s only on average.

Your life span, meanwhile, is how long you actually live-and that could be anywhere from 60 to 120 years. And if you’re in much better physical shape than the average Joe your age, chances are that your life span will be higher than the life expectancy. “The life span of an individual may turn out to be very different from the life expectancy. You may die tomorrow, or you could live to be more than 100 years old,” says Dr. David Smith of Northwestern University Medical School. “At times when life spans are changing rapidly, life expectancies have little predictive value for the life span of an individual. Life expectancies are a prediction of what is to occur in the distant future yet are based on data from people who have recently died, so they are not very relevant to people living or being born today,” explains Dr. Smith. In other words, just because the chart says 72 doesn’t mean that you should schedule yourself to die then.


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