Whether you can live forever isn’t up for debate. But whether we’ve reached the limit of human longevity and if you can halt the aging process has been the subject of debate in recent years.
Typically, our risk of death climbs significantly with age. Starting around age 50, the risk of death is about three times higher than when you’re 30. Those odds double every eight years during the next two decades. Should you reach the ripe age of 100, the chance seeing 101 is around 60%. This is known as the Gompertz Law, which implies that risk of death would hit 100% at or around age 111, barring a few extreme outliers.
That research was essentially echoed in a study published in the journal Nature back in 2016 which suggested that we were reaching limits of human longevity. They placed that limit at around the age of 115, but the latest research has reignited the debate about the possibilities.
The authors of the Science study believe that similar to other living organisms, such as fruit flies and round worms, humans reach an age plateau where their risk of death levels off and remains at about 50% risk of death in each year thereafter. In other words, the odds that someone age 111 will reach 112 are the same as a person age 105 reaching 106.
Reaching age 80 is significant. It’s at that point that death rates begin to decelerate. The reason for this, some believe, is that to reach the age of 80, one has to have the genetic makeup or a lifestyle that supports survival into extreme old age. Others chalk it up to a matter of strength.
The results of the study follow a six-year examination of more than 4,000 Italian citizens age 105 and older which tracked survival trajectories. It has led researchers involved in the project to believe that aging does not reach a limit and that the current oldest age ever reached (122) could be surpassed.
However, their conclusions are met with a fair amount of disagreement. Talking to the Los Angeles Times, S. Jay Olshansky, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois, believes not only is there an age limit to human longevity, but that the latest study actually provides more evidence in favor of that view than to the contrary. He points out that given the fact so few humans survive to these extreme ages and half die off every year once they do, the truth is we are now reaching the far reaches of human longevity.
“The conclusion that they’ve come to, which is that there is no upper limit to life, is unreasonable,” said Olshansky in the interview. “If 100 people survive to age 110 out of billions — which is exactly what has happened — what difference does it make if it’s 50 or 60 that die before their next birthday? It’s just not persuasive to use such a small difference, drawn from such a tiny population of humans, to conclude anything about the longevity of humans in general.”
How Common is Living to 105?
One interesting thing to come from the research is that birth year also played into risk of death, with subjects who have turned 105 more recently seeing a more significant decrease in risk. This suggests that people are living longer, perhaps due to the difference in stress placed on the body in modern life compared to previous eras.
Even with the number centenarians increasing, living to be 100 is not all that common. Data shows that a person’s odds of reaching 100 fifty years ago was 1-out of-67,000. Today, around 1 of every 6,000 people live for a century, a significant increase, but still far from a common experience.