Human lifespan has a ceiling and we have probably reached it already

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Sam Woolley/Gizmodo

It looks like there is a definite ceiling to the lifespan of a human being – and we have reached it.

The study that has shown statistical evidence of a maximum human lifespan was published in Nature by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, suggesting that it may be impossible to extend our lifespan beyond what we have already achieved. The highest age that a person has ever reached was 122 – achieved by a French woman Jeanne Calment nearly 20 years ago, and the study shows that it was an outlier and close to our absolute maximum.

This is noteworthy because life expectancy has grown significantly throughout the history – and certainly in the last century – thanks to improvements in public health, diet, and other areas. While average life expectancy in the U.S. is currently at 79, it was only 47 in the year 1900. And data shows that the maximum duration of life has risen with it, but only up to a certain point.

“Demographers as well as biologists have contended there is no reason to think that the ongoing increase in maximum lifespan will end soon, but our data strongly suggest that it has already been attained and that this happened in the 1990s.” – Dr. Jan Vijg

After looking at survival improvements since 1900 for people aged 100 and above, researchers found that gains in survival peaked at around 100 and then declined rapidly, regardless of the year people were born. “This finding indicates diminishing gains in reducing late-life mortality and a possible limit to human lifespan,” said Dr. Jan Vijg, professor and chair of genetics, and professor of ophthalmology & visual sciences at Einstein. Dr. Vijg and his colleagues analyzed data from the Human Mortality Database, which compiles mortality and population data from more than 40 countries.

Using maximum-reported-age-at-death data, the Einstein researchers put the average maximum human lifespan at 115 years—a calculation allowing for record-oldest individuals occasionally living longer or shorter than 115 years. Finally, the researchers calculated 125 years as the absolute limit of human lifespan. Expressed another way, this means that the probability in a given year of seeing one person live to 125 anywhere in the world is less than 1 in 10,000.

“Further progress against infectious and chronic diseases may continue boosting average life expectancy, but not maximum lifespan,” said Dr. Vijg. “While it’s conceivable that therapeutic breakthroughs might extend human longevity beyond the limits we’ve calculated, such advances would need to overwhelm the many genetic variants that appear to collectively determine the human lifespan. Perhaps resources now being spent to increase lifespan should instead go to lengthening healthspan—the duration of old age spent in good health.”

Michal Dudic

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