Posted on Nov 07, 2003, 7 a.m.
By Bill Freeman
Is the Human Life Span Infinite.Probably not, but it's been growing fastBy Jeff KellliherHealthSCOUT ReporterMONDAY, Oct. 2(HealthSCOUT) -- The Roman orator Cicero once said, "No one is so old as to think he cannot live one more year." Modern science may have us allthinking that way pretty soon -- and for good reason.
Is the Human Life Span Infinite?
Probably not, but it's been growing fast
By Jeff Kellliher
MONDAY, Oct. 2
(HealthSCOUT) -- The Roman orator Cicero once said, "No one is so old as to think he cannot live one more year." Modern science may have us allthinking that way pretty soon -- and for good reason.
In spite of numerous claims that human life expectancy tops out around age 120, new research shows we're living longer than ever before. It also suggests that how far we can expect to push the limits of the human life span is anyone's guess.
A study of Swedish birth and death records, considered among the most accurate available, shows the longest a Swedish man or woman could expect to live in the 1860s was 101. By the 1960s that number had steadily moved up to 105 and in the 1990s it rocketed to 108. Results of the study appear in the current issue of the journal Science.
Witch Hunt The Emperors' Purge The Century Mark
SOURCES: Interviews with John R. Wilmoth, Ph.D., associate professor, department of demography, University of California, Berkeley, and Ronald Klatz, M.D., president, American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, Chicago; Sept. 29, 2000 Science
"Academically, it's impossible to say there's an age beyond which a person can't live," says John Wilmoth, a professor of demography and lead-author of the study. "In practical terms, however, of course there's a limit to how long we can live."
Wilmoth says improvements in measures that prevent illness such as sanitation, hygiene and better drinking water did a lot to boost life expectancy between 1860 and 1960 in the industrialized West.
After 1970, life expectancy numbers in developed nations really shot up, and Wilmoth says the reason why is not entirely clear. "Some say it's because the elderly [of that generation] were less subject to ill health when they were young," explains Wilmoth. "But there's also a fairly good case to be made for advances in medical science and particularly treatment of cardiovascular disease."
Wilmoth says his study shows that both the averages for life expectancy and the extremes for old age are going up. "What makes this study novel is that some people believed that while average life expectancy was increasing, a maximum life span was fixed at around 120."
Quantity over quality?
"I think it's intrinsic human nature that people want to live longer, healthier, more comfortable lives," says Wilmoth. "But we really don't have a good answer as to whether people at older ages are really healthier."
So are we actually succeeding at preventing people from getting sick or are we just keeping them alive longer after they become ill? Dr. Ron Klatz of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, a non-profit medical society boasting a membership of over 10,000 physicians and scientists, says we need to stop thinking in terms of what he calls "death extension."
"This paper is a great step forward, but it's still just a retrospective view," says Klatz. "No one's talking about the acceleration of technology and how it's going to impact life expectancy in the future."
According to Klatz, genetic engineering, stem-cell technology (the use of undifferentiated cells from human embryos to cure disease) and nanotechnology (the use of microscopic machinery designed to repair organs and tissues) are just around the corner, and people who benefit from them are going to live longer, better lives.
"It's going to be a fantastic renaissance," says Klatz. "Any of these technologies can dramatically alter the life expectancy http://www.healthscout.com/cgi-bin/WebObjects/Af?id=103363&ap=1 these technologies can dramatically alter the life expectancy equation so that life spans could take an immediate boost of
20 to 30 years."
What To Do?
The oldest documented human life belonged to Jeanne Calment, a French woman who died in 1997 at the age of 122.45 years. However, undocumented reports from Africa and Asia describe people living well beyond age 135.
According to the Census Bureau, about one American in 10,000 was a centenarian as of 1990, but that age group is rising steadily. Four out of five people at least 100 years old are women.
If you're interested in centenarians, check out this Harvard University page.
If you have your eye on living a long, healthy life, go to the National Institute on Aging for online advice and information on how to make the most of your seniorhood.
You can also check out the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine to learn more about advances in anti-aging medicine. If Cicero excites you, check him out in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
These previous HealthSCOUT stories may also help shed
some light on how to make the most of the aging process.