Sperling Prostate Center

What Makes You Live Longer, Nature or Nurture?

If the Battle of the Sexes was over how long a person lives, women come out the winners. Around the globe, women have an average lifespan longer than men. This raises the question: which has greater influence over longevity, genetics or lifestyle?

The origin of the nature vs. nurture debate is attributed to a 19th century cousin of Charles Darwin, Francis Galton. Galton was an intellectual with wide-ranging interests who coined the phrase “nature vs. nurture.” He was a proponent of improving the human race through genetics. Interestingly, he died just shy of his 90th birthday in 1911, a time when the average man died at age 45.

What was Galton’s secret for doubling the expected lifespan? Was he biologically equipped with lucky genes? We know that he was a child prodigy, suggesting favorable hereditary factors. Or did his 43-year stable marriage and his scientific learning generate a lifestyle that fostered longevity? A fascinating 2022 study of males outliving female found that 25-50% of men have outlived women since 1850 (when Galton was 28 years old), and primary factors are marriage and educational attainment.[i]

There have been historic swings in the long nature vs. nurture debate, depending on changes in societal circumstances and scientific evidence. Sometimes environmental/cultural influences have been emphasized, but at other times, revelations from 20th century genetic science have held sway. Now, a May 2023 ScienceNorway news story reports that “Øyvind Næss, a researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and professor at the University of Oslo, warns against taking these biological explanations too far.”

He and others like general practitioner Bjørn Gjelsvik cite evidence from societal and healthcare changes that favor things like prevention of cardiovascular disease, especially in men’s health. As a result of Norwegian healthcare initiatives, the Norwegian gender gap in longevity is closing, reduced from women outliving men by seven years in 1970 to today’s average of just over three years. In fact, since 1970 the death rate from heart attacks has dropped by 85%, something that particularly affects men who (for many reasons) are at greater cardiovascular risk. Næss cites the women-over-men longevity problem in Russian, which reached an all-time high of a 14-year gap at one point. The article quotes him as stating, “There must be something in the surrounding environment that really matters for gender differences in life expectancy when the differences between men and women have gone up and down so much and vary so much between countries.”

As a proponent of nurture over nature, Næss believes that public health measures aimed at the entire population would particularly benefit “a large group of men who are more likely than others to be in poor health”, e.g., socially disadvantaged men who tend to be less well educated and less economically resourced. In his view, this would also minimize broad social differences in wellness.

Our Sperling Prostate Center blogs approach the path to men’s wellness through the walnut-sized gateway of the humble but important prostate gland. While the prostate does not seem connected to the heart by nature, what they have in common is environmental factors that nurture the health of both: anti-inflammatory diet, regular vigorous workouts, and stress reduction. Although I have no idea how to pronounce the names of the Norwegian authorities identified above, I repeat our Center’s continual pronouncement that what is good for the prostate is good for the heart, and vice versa.

While our Center’s services center on the prostate gland, we are committed to nurturing the whole person, and raising awareness of men’s health problems. Our blogs feature evidence-based information on nutrition, exercise, and stress management at all levels: body, mind, heart, and spirit. Let’s close the longevity gap between men and women so we all enjoy healthy lives for as long as possible.

NOTE: This content is solely for purposes of information and does not substitute for diagnostic or medical advice. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing pelvic pain, or have any other health concerns or questions of a personal medical nature.

[i] Bergeron-Boucher M, Alvarez J, Kashnitsky I, et al. Probability of males to outlive females: an international comparison from 1751 to 2020. BMJ Open 2022;12:e059964. https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/12/8/e059964


About Dr. Dan Sperling

Dan Sperling, MD, DABR, is a board certified radiologist who is globally recognized as a leader in multiparametric MRI for the detection and diagnosis of a range of disease conditions. As Medical Director of the Sperling Prostate Center, Sperling Medical Group and Sperling Neurosurgery Associates, he and his team are on the leading edge of significant change in medical practice. He is the co-author of the new patient book Redefining Prostate Cancer, and is a contributing author on over 25 published studies. For more information, contact the Sperling Prostate Center.

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