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29th June 2017

No detectable limit to how long people can live

Emma Morano passed away in April. At 117 years old, the Italian woman was the oldest known living human being. Super-centenarians, such as Morano and Jeanne Calment of France – who famously lived to be 122 years old – continue to fascinate scientists and have led them to wonder just how long humans can live for. A study published in Nature last October concluded that the upper limit of human age is peaking at around 115.

Now, however, a new study by McGill University biologists Bryan G. Hughes and Siegfried Hekimi comes to a starkly different conclusion. By analysing the lifespan of the longest-living individuals from the USA, the UK, France and Japan for each year since 1968, Hekimi and Hughes found no evidence for such an upper limit, and if such a maximum exists, it has yet to be reached or identified.

 

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"We just don't know what the age limit might be. In fact, by extending trend lines, we can show that maximum and average lifespans could continue to increase far into the foreseeable future," Hekimi says. Many people are aware of what has happened with average lifespans. In 1920, for example, the average newborn Canadian could expect to live 60 years; a Canadian born in 1980 could expect 76 years, and today, life expectancy has jumped to 82. Maximum lifespan seems to follow the same trend.

It's impossible to predict what future lifespans in humans might look like, Hekimi says. Some scientists argue that technology, medical interventions, and improvements in living conditions could all push back the upper limit.

"It's hard to guess," Hekimi adds. "Three hundred years ago, many people lived only short lives. If we would have told them that one day most humans might live up to 100, they would have said we were crazy."

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