Something miraculous happened in the 20th century that is rarely mentioned in technical leaps like airplanes, television, radio, atomic bombs and the Internet. Due to improved health, medicine and nutrition, the average life expectancy of people on Earth has doubled. The big question now is whether it could double again. Is there a natural biological limit to human longevity, an age that we just can not get over? Or could a happy man give Methusalem a run for his money given the right circumstances? Ben Guarino in The Washington Post reports that a recent study by very old Italians indicates that there is no limit to how long a person can go on in this deadly spiral.
The science of longevity is surprisingly controversial, especially because there are so few people of extreme age at 1
According to a controversial 2016 study that analyzed data from 40 different countries, the average citizen with the right genes and interventions could come to 115, and a few genetic superstars would be in able to make it to 125. But that was it, they argued. There was a wall of mortality that medicine and positive thinking can not overcome.
But not all are convinced of this data. For the new work in the journal Science the researchers therefore examined the lifespan of 3,836 people in Italy, who reached the age of 105 years or older between 2009 and 2015 and whose age was confirmed by birth certificates. What they found is that the Gompertz law goes a little bit over the century mark. According to a press release, a 90-year-old woman has a 15 percent chance of dying next year and an estimated six years to live. At the age of 95, the mortality rate increases to 24 percent per year. At the age of 105, the probability of dying increases by 50 percent. In other words, at least statistically, every year a lucky person could turn the coin of life around, and if it would show heads each time, they could live over 115 or 125.
"Our data shows us that there is no firm limit to the human lifespan that is still in sight," says senior author Kenneth Wachter of UC Berkeley in the press release. "Not only do we see mortality rates getting worse with age, we also see that they get a little better over time."
Guarino reports that while this study does not include as many nations and data points as previous studies, the quality of data is much better. This is because Italy closely monitors citizens and requires them to register each year at their place of residence. In other words, researchers were able to confirm exactly when supercentenarians were born and died. Other nations, including US social security registers, are less accurate, and in many cases, very old people tend to forget about their exact age or add a few years for prestige, which can pollute the data. "We have the advantage of better data," Wachter tells Elie Dolgin of Nature . "If we can get data of this quality for other countries, I expect that we will see the same pattern."
Why, then, should mortality rates diminish at such an extreme age? The geneticist Siegfried Hekimi of McGill University in Montreal tells Carl Zimmer of the New York Times that cells in the body cause damage that is only partially repaired. (Hekimi was not affiliated with the study.) Over time, all this damage leads to aging body systems and death. It is possible that these extremely old people are aging more slowly and their bodies are able to keep up with the repairs.
Jay Olshansky, a bio-demographer at the University of Illinois in Chicago, tells Dolgin, however, that an endless plateau does not exist. It makes no sense. Certain cells in the body like neurons, he does not replicate. Instead, they simply wither and die, which limits how long people can live.
So what can you do to stay alive until age 115 or older? Guarino reports that lifestyle choices such as eating and exercising increase life expectancy in the early 70s or 80s. After that everything depends on genetics and the lifestyle does not seem to matter. A 104-year-old woman writes her longevity drinking 3 dr. Pepper sodas a day for 40 years too. The oldest man in the United States is 112 and smokes 12 cigars a day. And the oldest woman in the world, Jeanne Louise Calment, who lived 122 years and 164 days in France, smoked two cigarettes a day until the age of 119, and stopped only because she could no longer shine well enough.
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