- Life span, the maximum age a human can reach, keeps getting stretched.
- COVID has made a dent on average life expectancy, but only slightly.
- 100 is the new 80: The number of people who live past 100 years has been on the rise for decades.
- That's thanks, in part, to advances in medical sciences and healthy life-style choices.
Dubai: How long can a person live? Research shows extreme longevity will continue to rise and records will be shattered in the 21st century.
In fact, according to new research by the University of Washington (UW), a lifespan of 125 or even 130 years is possible by the end of the century.
Rise of centenarians
The number of people who live past 100 years has been on the rise for decades — up to nearly half a million people worldwide. But there are far fewer people who live till they are 110 or longer.
The oldest living person, Jeanne Calment of France, was 122 when she died in 1997; currently, the world's oldest person is 118-year-old Kane Tanaka of Japan.
The global life expectancy at birth for women is 75 years and for men, it's 70 years. This varies across regions and countries. Of course, living long has plenty of ramifications – for government, health care and society as a whole.
Are our bodies designed to keep going on and on?
So how long can a person live? A new study, published in Demographic Research on June 30, 2021 used statistical modelling to examine the extremes of human life.
Some scientists argue that basic cell deterioration and disease can put a limit on human lifespan. Others, however, maintain there is no cap.
In the study, Pearce and Adrian Raftery, a professor of sociology and of statistics at the UW, used Bayesian statistics and estimated that the world record of 122 will almost certainly be broken. The probability remains strong of a person living to at least 124 or even to 127 years. But it is “extremely unlikely” that someone would live to 135 in this century.
Live up to 150 years?
Another study in the journal Nature Communications has said that the human body will lose its ability to recover from illness and injury after 150 years. Scientists used medical data for more than 500,000 people and studied data from a simple blood test. They also looked at data on physical activity.
Although researchers suggested that humans could live till 150 years, they did not say anything about the quality of life in old age. What we know for sure is that many factors play a role in the longevity of humans, including genes, diet, lifestyle and health care.
• A supercentenarian is a human who has reached the age of 110, something only achieved by about one in 1,000 centenarians.
• There are fewer than 100 people in recorded history with documents to prove they have reached this age. As of July 1, 2021, only Kane Tanaka, Lucile Randon, Francisca Celia Dos Santos and Antonia de Santa Cruz have such an age.
At the beginning of the 19th century, no country in the world had a life expectancy of more than 40 years. Today, life expectancy has increased globally more than twice as long — from an average of 29 years to 73 years.
Since the 1950s, after World War II — life expectancy went up significantly. But since then, the world hadn’t made any huge leaps in how long we can live. Some scientists believe the reason human life span isn't increasing is because it simply isn't designed to.
Is there a cap on how long a person can live?
A UAE-based doctor said there are limits to the human body with respect to how long it can stay alive. “A person cannot keep living infinitely irrespective of conducive and optimum living conditions, because of built-in programs and processes in molecules, cells and organs — many of which cannot be appropriately or significantly modified, at least as of now,” said Dr. Johny Pappachan Avookaran, Internal Medicine (Specialist) at Aster Hospital, Qusais, Dubai.
“Ageing and death are the synergistic and end results of a multitude of factors, including free radicals, oxidative stress, glycation, telomere shortening, side reactions, mutations, aggregation of proteins etc,” Dr Avookaran added.
Role of medical science
“The increase in life expectancy owes largely to advances in medical sciences,” said Dr Avookaran. It has led, for example, to delineation of and addressing risk factors for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease — like smoking and hypertension — which then led to dramatic decreases in heart diseases and stroke, the leading causes of death especially in developed countries.
Equally important, he said, especially for the poorer nations, is the control of infectious diseases — via immunisations and effective antimicrobial treatment. “In the past, infectious diseases used to claim half of the world’s children before they reached adulthood,” he said.
Many body parts can now be replaced. These include:
- Middle ear
- Heart valves
- Connective tissue
- Vascularised composite allografts
"However, these organs are transplanted into recipients for specific purposes, like when they cannot live on with their own respective organs because of end-stage failure or other reasons, and not to prolong life as the primary purpose," said Dr. Avookaran.
The most important means to live longer and healthy is to adopt a healthy life-style. Our genes account for only one-third of longevity.
While transplanting healthy organs to replace failing ones will immediately prevent death from inadequacy of the replaced organ to sustain life, these organs only last for limited period of time. He cited, for example, a transplanted kidney donated by a living donor lasts on an average 10-13 years.
What is the effect of COVID on life expectancy?
Among the top 4 centenarians on this list, three of them (Lucile Randon of France, age: 117, Maria Morera of Spain/US, age: 113; and Casilda Benegas of Argentina/Paraguay, Age: 113) were confirmed to have had contracted COVID-19. They all survived.
In general, however, the current coronavirus pandemic had a significant knock-on effect on life expectancy. One study published June 24, 2021 in the journal BMJ has found that between 2010 and 2018, the gap in life expectancy between the US and the peer country average (16 other high-income countries) increased from 1.88 years (78.66 v 80.54 years, respectively) to 3.05 years (78.74 v 81.78 years).
During the period that cover the pandemic (2018 and 2020), the study found that life expectancy in the US dropped by 1.87 years (to 76.87 years), compared to the average decrease in peer countries (0.22 years).
What do genes have to do with it?Pathways to a healthy, and long life
The most important means to live longer and healthy is to adopt a healthy life-style, says Dr. Avookaran.
"Our genes account for only one-third of longevity. Remaining active, as sedentary life-style is one of today’s world’s major and silent killers, eating a healthy diet, containing enough of fruits, fresh vegetables, leaves, nuts, anti-oxidants, and fish with omega-3 fatty acids (indeed, adopting the Mediterranean diet), maintaining optimum weight and shape..."
In addition, he also advices the following: avoiding tobacco, excessive alcohol, and recreation drugs, restricting exposure to plastics and microplastics, defending oneself against toxins that unfortunately abound in the air we breathe, the water we drink and the foods we eat, with awareness and alertness at individual and community levels, keeping the brain active, having regular medical check ups so that diseases that lack symptoms in the early stages, including hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol etc are detected and treated early, etc. "These will go a long way in ensuring a healthy and long life."
7 'keys' to healthy aging
According to Stephen Schimpff, MD, MACP, there's a way to dramatically slow down the aging process. In his book, Longevity Decoded: The Seven Keys to Healthy Aging, Schimpff identifies the seven "keys" to living longer and healthier lives. They’re actually practical and has deep scientific grounding. These are the simple keys
- Eat a healthy diet
- Get enough sleep
- Avoid tobacco
- Manage stress
- Stimulate your brain
- Engage socially
"We're always told to start saving for retirement when we're young because it will compound and our investment will grow," he says. "What I wrote about is the same message: If you start early, the benefits will compound over time."
Studies on longevity: How important is the diet?
More studies are showing that diet has a powerful effect on longevity and simple dietary changes can make a difference. Nutrition scientists have identified foods and eating patterns that increase and decrease the risk of chronic disease. Studies have shown that even people in their 70s and 80s who change their diets and other lifestyle habits can benefit. In short, healthy eating, stress management, exercise, and other positive lifestyle habits help us move closer to goal of living long.
Researchers at Tufts University in Boston found that a diet that is made up of nutrient-dense food, sufficient fluid intake, brightly coloured fruits, lean proteins and healthy types of fats helps lower the risk of chronic disease. It also provides plenty of health-protective nutrients.
One of the most comprehensive studies of centenarians and their families, The New England Centenarian Study at the Boston University School of Medicine, has shown that almost all people who reach the age of 100 are lean, particularly men. So it is important to maintain a healthy weight.
What is the Okinawa diet?
The Okinawa diet refers to the traditional dietary and lifestyle habits of people who live on the Japanese island of Okinawa. Their unique diet and lifestyle, which has been credited with giving them some of the longest lifespans on earth, has been studied by scientists.
The diet is low in calories and fat while high in carbohydrates. It emphasises vegetables and soy products alongside small amounts of noodles, rice and fish. The diet limits or eliminates several groups of foods, including most fruit, meat, dairy, nuts, seeds and refined carbs.
Okinawans eat an average of seven servings of vegetables and fruits daily, along with seven servings of grains, two servings of soy products, omega-3-fatty acid-rich fish several times a week, very few dairy products, and little meat. The lifestyle also emphasises daily physical activity and mindful eating practices. Okinawa is home to more centenarians than anywhere else in the world.
Munch on nuts
When researchers tracked 34,000 Seventh Day Adventists in California for 12 years, they linked the consumption of nuts five to six times per week to a longer life expectancy. This could be due to the fatty acids, mineral content, phytonutrients or overall profile of nuts as a regular part of a healthy diet.
A study which followed the lifestyle habits of 380,000 people found that the closer the person’s diet conformed to the traditional Mediterranean eating plan, the lower the risk of death. It showed that mimicking the traditional diets of Greece and southern Italy cuts the risk of death from all causes by 20 per cent.
A healthy Mediterranean diet focuses on vegetables, legumes, fruits, nuts, whole grains and fish.
Spice it up
Many recent studies have indicated the health-protecting properties of herbs and spices. Sage, oregano, turmeric, cloves and cinnamon have all been shown to lower fasting blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
Dried fruits such as figs and dates are full of fibre and potassium which help regulate blood pressure. They have many times more antioxidants than other fruits.
Berries to keep the brain sharp
Research suggests that diets rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory polyphenolic compounds may lower the risk of age-related illnesses like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease that have no cure. Acai berries have the highest level of antioxidants, but strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are also good choices.
What are the habits of centenarians?
Research has shown that people who live till 100 have a few things in common – from the food they eat to the lifestyle they follow. Most centenarians eat a wide variety of garden vegetables and leafy greens.
• The bulk of their diet is made up of beans, whole grains, fruits, nuts, seeds and olive oil, according to Dann Buettner, who spent 15 years studying the healthiest and longest-living people in the world.
• Meat is eaten sparingly and fish is consumed in moderation. They eat small amount of eggs and sugar is eaten intentionally, not by habit. Beans are the cornerstone of every longevity diet in the world. Nuts are the most common snack and they eat whole, unprocessed food.
• Emilio Flores Márquez, 112, a retired sugar-cane farmer from Puerto Rico, had a pacemaker fitted at the age of 101. He attributes his longevity to a life full of love. “My father raised me with love, loving everyone. He always told me and my siblings to do good, to share everything with others.”
• Emma Morano from Italy who died aged 116, lived an active life – working in a factory before becoming a chef. A Mediterranean diet full of fresh fish and olive oil is likely to have played a part in helping her live long.
• Violet Brown, the oldest verified person from Jamaica ever, credits her lengthy lifespan to diet and faith. Brown favours a diet of coconut sauce, fish, mutton, cow feet, sweet potatoes and citrus fruits.
• Jeanne Calment, who died at 122 years, attributed her lifespan to staying active, olive oil and a sense of serenity. She took up fencing at 85 and rode her bike till she was 100.
Founded in 1990, theGRG validates claims of supercentenarians by checking proof-of-age documents provided by the claimant or their family.
Family members are required to supply documents that prove the claimant's birth date, along with another piece of official government identification. GRG researchers verify that these documents are true and correct. If they are, the claimant is included in the GRG's official tables of supercentenarians.