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Have Humans Hit Their Longevity Limit?

More people might attain very old age, study finds, but probably not beyond 125 years

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 5, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- Hoping science might help you live to be 200? Sorry, new research suggests that might now be impossible.

U.S. researchers pored over the data on human longevity and concluded that people's life spans may have nearly hit their limit.

That doesn't mean more people won't be living to very old ages -- just probably not much beyond the record age of 122, the researchers said.

"Further progress against infectious and chronic diseases may continue boosting average life expectancy, but not maximum life span," said study senior author Jan Vijg, chair of genetics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.

As the researchers noted, average life expectancy has risen substantially since the 19th century due to improvements in diet, public health and other areas.

For example, babies born in the United States today can expect to live until age 79, while the average life expectancy for those born in 1900 was only 47 years, the study authors said.

And since the 1970s, the ages of the oldest people worldwide have also increased. A French woman named Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997, had the longest documented life span of any person in history at 122 years.

In the new review, Vijg's team tracked data from the Human Mortality Database, which looks at statistics on deaths and other population data from more than 40 countries.

The researchers found that the percentage of people who lived to enjoy old age kept climbing from 1900 onward.

However, for people who made it to the 100-year mark, survival after that birthday didn't really budge much, regardless of what year the person was born. Their age at death did rise a bit between the 1970s and early 1990s, but seems to have leveled out since then, the study found.

"This finding indicates diminishing gains in reducing late-life mortality and a possible limit to human life span," Vijg said in a school news release.

So, based on current data, his team believes the average maximum human life span is 115 years, and that the absolute limit of human life span will be 125 years.

And the probability of any one person worldwide reaching age 125 in a given year is less than one in 10,000, Vijg and his colleagues said.

"Demographers as well as biologists have contended there is no reason to think that the ongoing increase in maximum life span will end soon," Vijg said. "But our data strongly suggest that it has already been attained and that this happened in the 1990s.

"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 life span," he explained.

"Perhaps resources now being spent to increase life span should instead go to lengthening 'health span' -- the duration of old age spent in good health," Vijg added.

The study was published online Oct. 5 in the journal Nature.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on life expectancy.

SOURCE: Albert Einstein College of Medicine, news release, Oct. 5, 2016

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