Humans have reached maximum life span, researchers say

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Jan Vijg, Ph.D.
Jan Vijg, Ph.D.

Improvements in public health, diet, the environment and other factors may have taken humans as far as they can go when it comes to life span, according to the authors of a study newly published online by the journal Nature. Nobody ever may live longer than the oldest people already on record, they wrote.

“Further progress against infectious and chronic diseases may continue boosting average life expectancy, but not maximum life span,” said senior author Jan Vijg, Ph.D., of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York.

Vijg and co-authors said they believe that maximum life span was reached in the 1990s. A 122-year-old French woman, Jeanne Calment, achieved the maximum documented life span of any person in history; she died in 1997.

The investigators reached their conclusion after analyzing data from the Human Mortality Database, which compiles mortality and population data from more than 40 countries, and looking at “maximum reported age at death” data from the International Database on Longevity. Using those data, the researchers estimated the average maximum human life span at 115 years, a calculation allowing for record-oldest individuals occasionally living longer or shorter than 115 years. (Calment, they concluded, was a statistical outlier.) The researchers then calculated that the probability in a given year of one person reaching age 125 anywhere in the world is less than one in 10,000.

“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,” Vijg said. “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.”

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