FYI Daily

To Age Well, Try Being President

Last updated: Dec 08, 2011

President Obama Speaks

We've all seen those "before" and "after" pictures of U.S. presidents -- dark-haired and unlined before they took office, and noticeably more grey-headed and wrinkly after a few years on the job. But contrary to popular imagination, the stress, worry, and excessive travel of being president don't lead to premature death. American presidents actually tend to live longer than their peers -- sometimes much longer.

Demographer Jay Olshansky of the University of Illinois at Chicago decided to study presidential lifespans after witnessing his local leader, Barack Obama, age rapidly in appearance during his stint in the White House. Olshansky calculated how long U.S. presidents would have been expected to live based on their age and the year in which they were inaugurated and compared it to how long they actually lived. He factored in the toll that serving as president might take, calculating that a four-year term would cut a president's estimated remaining lifespan by eight years (subtracting two days for every one day in office).

Turns out that the average age of the first eight presidents at their time of death was 79.8 years - but life expectancy at birth for men in that era was less than 40.

Eleven presidents did die before their expected lifespan -- most of them were in office between the years of 1841 and 1923. No theories as to why these were rougher years. The study appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Olshansky credits the "trifecta of wealth, high education, and access to medical care" for the presidents' longevity. It helped, he told Reuters, that the average age of a president at inauguration was 55.1, meaning they'd had a huge head start on lifespan by avoiding disease and infection for so long.

So maybe you can worry less that your own stressful job is cutting your life short (even if it is costing you your hair and smooth skin). Might help to make like a president and quit smoking (like President Obama), take up some vigorous hobbies (clearing brush, chopping wood, playing basketball), and log plenty of restorative family time at your own version of Camp David.