Science

Have we hit our maximum lifespan?

By Ben Sendell

Humanity seems to have an obsession with living longer and pushing the boundary of death later and later, with some scientists trying to defeat death all together.

According to a new study published in the journal Nature, scientists are claiming that there may be a limit as to how long we can live, with the oldest person ever recorded to have lived dying in the 1990s, and since the oldest ages to be reached are shown to be decreasing.

Scientists used to believe that it was impossible to live beyond the age of 110. However, a French lady named Jeanne Calment lived to the grand age of 122. She died in 1997 as the oldest recorded person to have ever lived. This shows just how difficult it is for science to predict quite how long humans can live for.

Those carrying out the study found that in at least 40 countries, the amount of people living to 70 and beyond has increased since 1900, and as a result of these findings we have seen our life expectancy rise. Scientists hypothesised that if there is no limitation as to how long a human being can live, then the largest survival rate increases should have occurred in those people who are currently the oldest.

The new study used the Human Mortality Database, maintained by researchers in Europe and the U.S.A. It contains information on longevity gathered from around the world.

The study also looked into people’s ages at death in the very oldest age range, focusing on deaths between the years 1968-2006. The research focused on the four countries with the largest amount of people living over 110, the United Kingdom, United States, France and Japan. They also examined the highest reported ages between 1972-2015.

However, data has shown that the the largest survival rate increases peaked in the 1980s for the oldest age groups. As a result, researchers have suggested this means there may be a natural limitation as to how long we can live.

Scientists have therefore summed up from this research that though the oldest reported ages at death rose until the 1990s, it began to level off and even began to decrease again since Calment’s death. The natural ceiling of how long we can live is put at 115 years by the study, yet this doesn’t mean that unnatural ages will not be reached in the future with artificial methods.

This means the case may not be closed… despite this research, some scientists still insist that with advances in diets, nutrition and medicine that humanity will be able to outlive Jeanne Calment’s achievement. Other studies on animals have even found calorie restriction and genetic manipulation resulted in mice living longer than is normally expected. So, we may see more studies in the future claiming a new limit to human longevity, or ways for us to live longer!

Photo credit: Alan Weir

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