When it comes to life expectancy, Germany lags behind the Western European average. Since 2000, the gap has grown by an entire year. What’s going wrong? And how can each individual take countermeasures?

Germany is one of the worst performers in Western Europe when it comes to life expectancy and is continuing to lose ground. This is shown by a current study by the Federal Institute for Population Research (BiB) and the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, which examined mortality trends over several decades.

In 2000, Germany was around 0.7 years behind the average life expectancy at birth in Western Europe. By 2022, the gap has increased to 1.7 years. “The beginning of the 2000s marks a turning point in the dynamics of mortality development in Germany,” says BiB lead author Pavel Grigoriev, summarizing the results. Since then, the mortality gap between Germany and other Western European countries has grown relatively steadily.

A look at the numbers shows: Germany is at the bottom of the list in Western Europe when it comes to the total population and men. For women, only the United Kingdom fares worse.

But why is that? “With regard to the causes of death, the deficit was explained in particular by a higher mortality rate due to cardiovascular diseases,” the team writes in the “Bundesgesundheitsblatt”.

For BiB Research Director Sebastian Klüsener, there is a need for action, especially in the prevention and early detection of cardiovascular diseases. The same applies to the areas of tobacco and alcohol prevention and healthy nutrition. “There is still a lot of potential here to better prepare us for the current aging process in society,” says Klüsener.

It is impossible to predict how long a person will live. What is clear is that a combination of biology, genetics and lifestyle factors appear to play a role. The so-called lifestyle factors in particular have recently come into focus – also because they can be influenced.

In a study with over 700,000 test subjects, researchers from the USA identified eight lifestyle factors that can be influenced, with which men and women live more than 20 years longer – even if they only start a healthy lifestyle in midlife.

The background: Certain lifestyle factors play a role in the development of chronic diseases that increase the risk of mortality. The researchers write in their study that

can be attributed to non-compliance with a healthy lifestyle. For comparison: According to the Federal Statistical Office, in Germany alone, 360,000 people die every year from cardiovascular diseases and 230,000 from cancer. They are considered the two most common causes of death in this country.

Low physical activity, opioid consumption and smoking had the greatest negative impact on life expectancy. These factors were associated with an approximately 30 to 45 percent higher risk of death during the study period. Stress, excessive alcohol consumption, poor diet and poor sleep hygiene have each been linked to an increased risk of death by about 20 percent. And a lack of positive social relationships with a five percent increased risk of death.

Men who have all eight healthy lifestyle factors at age 40 live an average of 24 years longer than men who do not have any of these habits. That means that the health-slacker lives to 63 years, while the health-conscious one lives to 87 years.

Women who practice all eight healthy lifestyle factors by age 40 live an average of 21 years longer compared to women who do not have any of these habits. This means that the health-conscious person only lives to be 67 years old, while the health-conscious person lives to be 87.5 years old.

In the current comparative study on life expectancy in Western Europe, the higher mortality is attributed in particular to cardiovascular diseases. According to the German Center for Cardiovascular Research, the four most important heart protection factors are:

They are also part of the eight lifestyle factors mentioned above.