Living Longer – Is it Good or Worrying?
In May 2018, The Independent newspaper published an article with this heading:
“There is someone alive today who will live to be 1,000 years old: Why we are living longer than ever?”
If it’s true, should we be excited or worried?
The article in The Independent aroused my curiosity, especially when I read:
“For most of recorded human history, average life expectancy has been between 20 and 40 years. In Britain, it was only in the mid-1800s that this figure consistently rose above 40 years. Today in the UK, average life expectancy is about 80 years. The main reason for this extraordinary advance is the fall in infant mortality… …Researchers are getting a better understanding of the ageing process and thus the ways in which it could be slowed, halted or even reversed.”
With a few exceptions, the oldest human being ever recorded was a French woman (Jeanne Calment) who was age 122 (plus 164 days) when she died in 1997. There are two exceptions to that record that stand out:
- Thomas Parr was an Englishman who died in 1635, and it was claimed he lived to the ripe old age of 152 (and nine months). You can read about the lively old chap here.
- Zaro Aga was a Kurdish man who lays claim to being one of the longest-living persons ever. He died on 29th June 1934 in Istanbul, Turkey. He was aged 170 when he died (born in 1764). But there is a debate as to his actual age when he died – according to the death certificate provided by his Turkish doctor, Zaro Aga’s age was 157.
People are generally living longer
Medical advances over the last few centuries and better access to healthcare facilities have helped increase humankind’s survival rates. In 1851, less than half of people born in England or Wales had a birthday after age 50.
Beyond the UK, these gains are slowing worldwide. The BBC article says:
“This belief that our species may have reached the peak of longevity is also reinforced by some myths about our ancestors: it’s common belief that ancient Greeks or Romans would have been flabbergasted to see anyone above the age of 50 or 60, for example.”
In the 1st Century, Pliny devoted an entire chapter of The Natural History to people who lived longest. Among them he lists the consul M Valerius Corvinos (100 years), Cicero’s wife Terentia (103), a woman named Clodia (115 – and who had 15 children along the way), and the actress Lucceia who performed on stage at 100 years old.
Scientific American reported on 25th May 2021 that researchers have looked at how long we can live if, by luck and the right genes, we avoid death from cancer, heart disease or getting hit by a bus or train. Leaving aside the nasty things that usually kill us, our body’s capacity to cope with everything thrown at it still fades with time. The researchers postulate a maximum life span for humans at somewhere between 120 and 150 years, with 150 being the “absolute limit” any healthy human body could sustain.
The Telegraph reported in May 2021 that thousands of volunteers in the US and UK contributed data to the study, which looked at both blood samples and daily step counts collected using an iPhone app. The researchers’ findings were published on 25th May 2021 on the Nature.com website. You might want to restrict your reading to the Abstract only as it gets very technical after that.
The research group used Artificial Intelligence to analyse the health and fitness information provided by volunteers and blood samples to conclude that a person’s lifespan is dependent on two points: biological age and resilience.
Biological age is a calculation associated with lifestyle, stress and chronic diseases, rather than your actual age, while resilience relates to the speed at which a person returns to good health after responding to a stressor.
What if we lived up to 150 years?
An article on Forbes.com caught my eye. Sergey Young, longevity expert and founder of the Longevity Vision Fund (here), which invests in breakthrough technologies that hope to increase the human lifespan, wants to ‘bust’ some myths about what longevity really means and specifically what living to 150 (and beyond) might look like. Briefly, this is a summary of what the article said:
- Currently, due to wear and tear, the human body doesn’t typically last much beyond 100 years, but revolutionary approaches in medicine will push boundaries of what was previously thought possible and offer solutions to renew and replace our body parts.
- In the future, medicine will transform from a one-size-fits-all approach into highly personalised healthcare, focused on early diagnostics and treatment, and assisted by breakthroughs in artificial intelligence.
- 150-Year lifespans and population growth may not lead to widespread food shortage because the food industry will be transformed in the future – through practices such as vertical farming, growing produce in commercial greenhouses and availability of plant-based ‘meat’.
- As lifespans lengthen, current social paradigms will become more diverse – for example, in a 150-year lifespan, it may become the norm to have various and many relationships, including multiple marriages.
- Whether people will be able to properly finance their pension and retirement plans to cover a much longer post-work age is a valid concern. But a change of attitude, better planning, and availability of more appropriate professional could help overcome these worries.
The European Parliament, in a European Parliamentary Research Service paper, asked: What if we lived up to 150 years? It’s worth a read. The paper says that coupled with a declining fertility rate, if we lived up to 150 years, it would lead to a drastic change in demographics, with a considerable shift in balance towards an elderly population. Our social and physical environments would be significantly altered from a wide range of perspectives, resulting in major changes in our framing of the education–work–retirement cycle; our household make-up; and our healthcare system, including the role of assistive technologies, for example.
I conclude that humans will never be able to live beyond 150 years of age – not on planet Earth anyway. Wasn’t it pre-ordained thus? The Bible says in Genesis 6:3:
Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.”
Mind you; I could be wrong. The book by Dr David Goldhill tells you all you need to know about how/why people can live for a very long time – even up to 1000 years. It may sound far-fetched, but there are good reasons to believe he just might be right. “Longevity” is available on Amazon here.
Sources and Further Reading
- * The article in The Independent is an extract from a book titled ‘Longevity: Why We are Living Longer than Ever and the Discoveries that May Allow Us to Live to 1000’ by Dr David Goldhill, which is available from Amazon in paperback (£10) and Kindle (£4.97 or £0 on Kindle Unlimited). ↑
- See: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20181002-how-long-did-ancient-people-live-life-span-versus-longevity ↑
- Pliny (Gaius Plinius Secundus) was a Roman author, a naturalist and natural philosopher, a naval and army commander of the early Roman Empire, and a friend of emperor Vespasian. He wrote the encyclopaedic Naturalis Historia (Natural History), which became an editorial model for encyclopaedias. ↑
- Read it at: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.02.0137%3Abook%3D7%3Achapter%3D49 ↑
- See: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/humans-could-live-up-to-150-years-new-research-suggests/ ↑
- The research was conducted using data from UK Biobank, a major biomedical database (UK Biobank website: www.ukbiobank.ac.uk; UK Biobank project ID 21988). The research was carried out by Singapore-based company Gero, in collaboration with the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York. ↑
- See: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2021/05/27/humans-could-live-150-say-scientists/ ↑
- See: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-23014-1 ↑
- See: https://www.forbes.com/sites/robinseatonjefferson/2020/01/30/what-living-to-150-might-look-like/ ↑
- See: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/ATAG/2019/641510/EPRS_ATA(2019)641510_EN.pdf ↑