03/25/2015 01:52 pm ET Updated May 25, 2015

The Real Reason Why Women Live Longer Than Men


Lately, I've been interested in studying longevity -- partly because I'm a physician but also because I'm getting older. And who doesn't want to unlock the secrets to longer life?

The fact that women live longer than men fascinates me. On average, women live 81 years while men live an average of 76 years.

This difference in longevity has existed since statisticians have been collecting such data. We've learned that genetics probably plays only a 20-30 percent role in how long people live. The rest is determined by lifestyle - what we eat, whether we exercise, if we floss (yep, that plays a role!), as well as the quality of our sleep - just to name a few.

But as I've been thinking about it and observing behavior differences between men and women, I'm pretty sure I stumbled upon the REAL reason why women live longer -- women travel in packs!
Think about it: Women go to spa appointments together. They meet each other at the hair salon. They never go on a diet alone, but instead do it with a girlfriend. And let's not forget the obvious --- if you're at a party or out to dinner with friends, women go to the bathroom in pairs.

Could you imagine if a guy asked another guy at a restaurant whether he wanted to accompany him to the restroom? Or if one guy "volunteered" to go with another? I'm uneasy just thinking about it. One time as I was about to head to the loo, a male friend said he would "go too." I decided I no longer needed to go. It just seemed weird --- and it must have seemed even weirder because I then went to the restroom when he came back. Of course being guys, neither of us even acknowledged the awkwardness.

Not long ago, I accidently stumbled into a women's restroom. I did not have my glasses on, and from the outside all restrooms look the same if you can't read the gender sign. That's when I realized I had finally uncovered the secret reason for those perennial long lines. To my utter surprise, there was not only a sofa (!) there was also constant chatter. These conversations took place not only at the sinks, but even between the stalls! That would never --- never--happen in a men's bathroom. There's an unwritten rule --- conversation is verboten.

Let's face it -- women talk to other women all the time about everything - - including their health. They have their own sense of community - both online in health blogs and Facebook posts, but also in real life. They discuss with their sisters, their mothers, their best friends what is happening with their bodies, what medicines they take, and how they feel. My mother knows as much about some medicines as Google does. The other day she remarked to me, "Johnny, Rita told me I should switch to the new blood thinner since I won't need blood tests anymore." Sometimes I wonder how does something like that even come up in social conversations.

Men don't do this. We are supposed to be strong. We certainly don't acknowledge any physical ailments. As a result, men don't go the doctor until symptoms reach a point where they can no longer be ignored. And even then, it's usually the wife or girlfriend who brings him in. Here's a test: ask your husband or boyfriend what the doctor said at a recent visit. It will be as if you asked what was said in the confessional!

Guys will ask other guys occasionally to go "work out" together. But there's no substantive conversation going on. And we all know that it really is a competition anyway, to size up the person seeing how much he can bench. No one would dare ask, "How's your prostate doing?"

I always tell patients who are doing well to "keep doing what they're doing." So women, keep building that sense of community, keep conversing with friends and family going, and go ahead and travel in pods. It improves your health.

So men, here's our answer: If we want to live longer, we need to actually talk to each other. Start sharing your health status. Develop your inner pack behavior and you too may be able to expand your life by an entire dog year.