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Oklahomans' life expectancy falls short of national average

Oklahomans live shorter lives with fewer healthy years than residents of nearly every other state in the nation, other than Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and West Virginia, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Modified: July 19, 2013 at 9:30 am •  Published: July 18, 2013

At 92, Bob Sonnenfeld has learned an important lesson about exercise.

“It never gets any easier,” he said.

Every morning, Sonnenfeld gets up and jogs on his indoor trampoline for about 20 minutes. He has always been active — and he has lived a healthy life much longer than the average Oklahoman.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published Thursday looked at how many years a person lives after age 65 — and how many of those years are lived healthy.

The average Oklahoman lives about 18 years after turning 65, but only 12 of those years are lived healthy, according to the report.

Many factors influence a person's health status as they age, including safe and healthy living environments; healthy behaviors, such as exercise and not smoking; getting the recommended clinical preventive services, such as vaccines, cancer screenings and blood pressure checks; and having access to good quality health care when it is needed, according to the CDC study.

Oklahomans live shorter lives with fewer healthy years than nearly every other state in the nation, other than Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and West Virginia.

Living a long life

Sonnenfeld, of Oklahoma City, attributes his long, healthy life not only to his exercise routine, but also to the joy he gets from his family. He was married to his wife Nell for 50 years. She died in 2010, and it's still hard for him to talk about. She was the love of his life.

It's easier for him to remember the countries that he and Nell didn't go to. Their travels are represented in Sonnenfeld's miniature liquor bottle collection: more than 1,100 small bottles that sit in cases in his home.

On many of the bottles, he has written where they came from. “1994 Amsterdam” on a small jug of Devon Mead. “Greece 1995” on a bottle of Ouzo, a popular Greek drink. Other bottles read Germany, Scotland and Ireland.

“We loved Ireland,” he said. “Of course, we loved everywhere we went.”

Sonnenfeld, a World War II veteran, ran an insurance business for more than 40 years. He said he encourages young people to work at a place where they can be happy and devoted to what they do.

“Otherwise, you won't live a happy life with it.”

Loraine Colbert, of Oklahoma City, has worked a lot of jobs in her 81 years.

Colbert, who has lived in Oklahoma most of her life, remembers being the first black person to work at a large Oklahoma City loan company. And she also was one of the first black people to work at Kerr-McGee Corp.

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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