If you’re planning on living forever, or at least past 115, we’ve got good news for you: biologists at McGill University have found that there is no detectable limit to the human lifespan. Analysis by Siegfried Hekimi and Bryan Hughes critiques a study published last year claiming that no matter the advances in the medical field, humans cannot live past 115 years old. By going through the same data, Hekimi and Hughes found that it was insufficient to make such a claim.
The original study, by researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, claimed that though life expectancy has increased through history, the age of the oldest person at any given time had not increased since 1995. They concluded from their research that the maximum lifespan of humans is likely ‘fixed and subject to biological constraints.’ When Hekimi read the paper, he immediately questioned such an assertion.
In going over the published research, Hekimi and Hughes found that the data was arbitrarily split in two chronologically. When the split was removed, the trends that the Einstein College had found to suggest the 1995 plateau disappeared. By Hekimi and Hughes’ analysis, the data actually suggested a steady and long-term increase in maximum life expectancy.
Hekimi theorizes that maximum life would follow the same trend as average lifespan. With the average lifespan steadily increasing, it stands to reason that maximum lifespan would do the same without plateauing. He is careful to mention that ‘no detectable limit’ to human life is not the same as it being limitless. So it’s not that you can live forever, it’s just that we still don’t know if there is a biologically determined maximum.
Hekimi cites the increasingly comfortable and sheltered environment in which people in places like Canada grow up as the main factor behind the increase in life expectancy. The average age Canadians live to has doubled over the past hundred years to reach our current life expectancy of 82. If our bodies are under less stress, it stands to reason that a person living now will live longer than someone who is currently 100, because they still experienced the stresses of life 100 years ago.
Don’t worry, living longer and longer doesn’t have to mean more time spent sick and frail before you die. Hekimi says that statistically, the people who live the longest are also in good health the longest.
‘The fact is that, mostly the people who live a very long time, they were always healthy,’ he told the National Post, ‘They didn’t have heart disease or diabetes.’ So you don’t have to worry about that old age being painful. It looks like increased life expectancy just means more good years of life.
Next, Hekimi and experimental biologists like him are trying to understand if life-expectancy is something written in a person’s DNA. Hekimi’s lab has already modified a gene in a type of worm that can lengthen its life by up to five times. While the purpose of research like this is understanding the aging process, not extending it, it’s possible that work like this will lead to potentially altering humans to live even longer.
‘If this trend continues and our life expectancy of the average person becomes 100, the longest person might make it to 150,’ Hekimi said, ‘Probably not you or me. But maybe our grandchildren and great-grandchildren, because it’s an ongoing process.’
So which do you think will happen first? Human immortality by gene modification or immortality by downloading our consciousnesses onto computers? Only time will tell.