For centuries man has dreamed of immortality. In fact, life expectancy continues to increase year after year. But can humans age forever or is there a limit?? New studies should shed light.
Can human life be extended forever?? Researchers have found the answer.
In contrast to the years before, Jeanne Calment’s last birthday was a "quiet affair". This is how the AP news agency reported it in February 1997. Calment celebrated it at the retirement home in the small French town of Arles, where she spent her twilight years. The mayor of the city and a government representative came to visit. A television crew was also on site. The turnout was nothing like last year’s, however, when 150 journalists stormed the small retirement home.
Nevertheless, the birthday of the French woman born in 1875 was a sensation. Calment was the first person ever to reach 122 years of age. Year of Life. Today, more than 20 years later, it is still the oldest known human to have ever lived. And this despite the fact that the life expectancy of people is increasing year by year due to advances in medicine and technology. In 2020, it amounted to an average of 83.6 years for women. Men lived to be 78.9 years old on average.
People are getting older and older
The average life expectancy of a person is still a long way from Jeanne Calment’s age record, but it could soon be broken. This is shown by the results of a study by researchers Michael Pearce and Adrian Raftery of the University of Washington, published in the journal Demographic Research in the summer of 2021.
Using statistical methods, the two researchers calculated how longevity would change in people in the 21. Will change the twenty-first century. To do this, they used data from the so-called "International Database on Longevity". The Max Planck Institute lists people from 13 countries who have demonstrably lived to be at least 110 years old.
The model set up by the researchers shows that the number of people who reach a particularly long lifespan will increase in the coming years. This also increases the chance of new record life spans. "(…) with a probability of more than 99%, the current age record of 122 years will be broken by 2100," says the study. According to the study, it is also conceivable that a person will reach the age of 130 before the end of this century.
Gallery: A visit to Japan’s village of centenarians
But does that mean human lifespan can be increased forever? This is the question that an international team of researchers led by scientist Timothy Pyrkov has posed. In one study, Pyrkov and his team examined health data from the U.S., U.K. and Russia. Their findings were published in the journal Nature Communications. A first look at the study quickly reveals the limits of human aging. Through the interplay of a healthy lifestyle, the right genetics and a dose of luck, it is indeed possible to reach an age beyond 100 years. With increasing age, however, the so-called "resilience" – that is, the body’s ability to regenerate itself after disturbances – continuously decreases. Between 120 and 150 years of age, this resilience disappears completely. "(…) this represents a natural limit of the human lifespan," the researchers led by Pyrkov said in the study.
For aging researcher Bjorn Schumacher, limits to the human lifespan are not surprising. "Our genes are simply not designed to maintain the body forever," says Schumacher. At the CECAD Cluster of Excellence for Aging Research at the University of Cologne, the 46-year-old researches the biological processes behind aging. For Schumacher and for the still young scientific field of aging research, however, the maximum lifespan of a person is secondary: "It’s not about how old we become. The crucial thing is to maintain our health into old age."
The focus of aging research is not on extending lifespan, but on healthy aging.
When life expectancy becomes a challenge
In most countries of the world, the increase in life expectancy in recent years has already led to a demographic change. In Germany, for example, every second person is already older than 45 and every fifth person is older than 66, according to figures from the German Federal Statistical Office. However, this also increases the challenges for society. "Already, half of those over 65 suffer from multimorbidity – the presence of multiple chronic diseases at the same time," Schumacher says. Cancer, cardiovascular diseases or dementia – the occurrence of such diseases in older people is not uncommon.
The situation could become even worse in the next few years. According to Schumacher, the number of people over 65 continues to rise and could soon account for a third of the population. "Then we face a huge societal and health problem because a significant portion of the population will be sick," Schumacher said. To prevent this, aging research is called for. "We still have the chance that we can overcome this problem through a massive evaluation of research, development and clinical implementation."
How to prolong life
Initial findings from research into aging are already available: In addition to genetic components, environmental factors play a major role in the aging process. They determine how a person ages, how long they live and when they develop certain diseases. It is precisely these environmental factors that can be addressed. "It is quite clear that a person’s diet and lifestyle play a major role," says Schumacher. Physical activity or a reduction in calorie content in food intake – all of these would bring health benefits that could have a life-prolonging effect.
In Schumacher’s view, however, a healthy lifestyle alone would not be enough to solve the problems of an aging society: "It also requires the development of new therapies that maintain the health of the population in old age." Currently, however, there is still a lack of the appropriate research funds for it. "A lot has already happened in the past. But much more investment is needed in the field of aging research."
If the necessary funds for aging research can be raised, there will be almost no limits to healthy aging in the future. However, Schumacher does not believe that the number of 110-, 120- or even 130-year-olds would then also increase sharply. "From historical data, it has been shown that the age limit will level off at 100 years old."Extreme cases like Jeanne Calment, who shortly after earning 122. The number of people who die before their 60th birthday will therefore remain the exception in the future.