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msnbc.com contributor
updated 5/21/2012 9:23:12 AM ET 2012-05-21T13:23:12

Here’s a fist bump, boys – or, if you prefer, a bro hug – for some hard-earned progress. In the ultimate competition, the race to stay alive, you’re gaining furiously on the fairer sex.

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Between 1989 and 2009, life expectancy for U.S. males grew by 4.6 years while predicted lifespans for American women rose by 2.7 years, according to the recent report from Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

That manly surge narrowed the life-expectancy gender gap to five years, one month and six days – compared to a seven-year gulf in 1989. Modern guys will live to be an average age of 76.2 versus 81.3 for women, the IHME reports.

“Men are catching up,” said Dr. Ali Mokdad, professor of global health at the IHME, part of the University of Washington. He and his colleagues examined death certificates and incorporated U.S. Census lifestyle data (including crime rates and ratios of nearby fast-food restaurants and bars) to project lifespan estimates for all U.S. counties.

How’d the dudes pull closer? They’re smoking less than past generations, they’re less likely to be obese than modern women and more apt than females to treat hypertension and high cholesterol, Mokdad said.

When it comes to cardiovascular concerns, Mokdad said, “men are tending to be more vigilant than women."

Now, to be fair to the ladies, cardiovascular disease - the leading cause of mortality for U.S. females - is often unrecognized and untreated in women, according to the American Heart Association.  "In this country, we haven’t done a good  job," Mokdad said,  "of raising awareness for women about the risk factors for cardiovascular disease."

Mokdad did mention one dark caveat in the seemingly sunny data: the life expectancies of American males and females are both lagging when compared to those of men and women in other developed countries. Infants born this year in the United States will have an average life expectancy of 78.9 years, according to a United Nations study, versus babies born in Japan (83.5), Switzerland (82.3) and Spain (81.5).  

Still, the stats should spark healthy smiles for the men of Marin County, Calif., near San Francisco, (where guys live, on average, the longest in this country, 81.6 years), and in New York City where, since 1989, the average male lifetime has increased by 13.6 years (to 79), the IHME reports.

Many Big Apple boys have bolstered their golden years via wholesome individual habits. More broadly, that city pioneered a spree of health initiatives, including blunt anti-smoking ads. In 1988, New York banned cigarette puffing in public restrooms and cabs, later adding restaurants, bars, parks and beaches. In 2006, New York became the first city to prohibit artificial trans fats at restaurants. In 2008, the city required chain restaurants to post calorie counts on menus.

“The whole (local) culture has changed,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City’s health commissioner and a marathon runner. “Smoking used to be seen as cool and hip – now it’s the opposite. Exercising and eating healthy (once were deemed) things only strange people did. Now they’re mainstream.”

So, peering ahead toward the Big Finish Line In The Sky, can American men somebody hope to pull even with women in the life-expectancy race? Historically, females on this planet tend to live longer then males because the guys have a higher collective risk of heart disease and of being killed in road accidents, stats show.

Blame it on the testosterone, maybe.  

"For me, someone working in public health, I would say both genders should live the same amount of years, respective of our race, sex, whatever," Mokdad said. "But there will always be a gap."

Historically, men tend to die earlier than females mainly due to higher heart-ailment risks.

Can that eternal gender gap ever be eliminated?

“Cardiovascular disease is now the leading cause of mortality for women in this country,” Mokdad said. “(What’s more) women don’t seek medical care as much as men seek it … The data is showing -- men are trying to stay close.”

Biggest male life expectancy gains 1989-2009

1. New York City          +13.6 years
2. San Francisco          +11.7
3. Kings County, N.Y.     +11.5
4. Bronx, N.Y.            +11.1
5. District of Columbia   +10.3
6. Yuma County, Ariz.     + 9.5
7. Fulton County, Ga.     + 9.3
8. Queens, N.Y.           + 8.9
9. Essex County, N.J.     + 8.4
10. Hudson County, N.J.   + 8.2

Places where men live longest

TOP COUNTIES FOR MALE LONGEVITY

1. Marin, Calif.         81.6 years
2. Montgomery, Md.       81.4
3. Fairfax, Va.          81.3
4. Douglas, Colo.        81.0
5. Island, Wash.         80.9
6. Los Alamos, N.M.      80.7
7. Gunnison, Colo.       80.7
8. Pitkin, Colo.         80.7
9. Collier, Fla.         80.7
10. Santa Clara, Calif.  80.6

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