The lyric “I’m going to live forever” appears in the chorus of Fame’s theme song, delivered by actress Irene Cara. Cara was, of course, singing about Fame’s ability to grant posthumous longevity. However, a physical manifestation of this arrogance may be found in some parts of the world, particularly in the technology industry. Immortality is occasionally raised to the rank of a bodily desire in Silicon Valley. Many prominent names in tech have invested in efforts to tackle death as if it were a simple software update for your smartphone.
But what if death can’t be hacked, and there will always be a limit to how long we can live, no matter what we do? Researchers have now turned their attention to the subject of how long we can live if we are not killed by cancer, heart disease, or being struck by a bus due to a mixture of uncertainty and genetics. Our body’s ability to restore homeostasis to its various structural and metabolic systems following perturbations declines with time, they say, even when we avoid things that generally kill us. Even if we live a relatively stress-free life, this gradual reduction places the maximum human life span between 120 and 150. The researchers conclude in data published on May 25 in Nature Communications that if the apparent threats do not claim our lives, this underlying lack of resistance would.
“They’re asking, ‘What’s the longest life that a human complex system could live if everything else went perfectly and it was in a stress-free environment?’ Heather Whitson, head of Duke University’s Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development, agrees with the study. According to her, the team’s findings suggest an underlying “pace of aging” that determines lifetime boundaries.
Timothy Pyrkov, a researcher at the Singapore-based business Gero, and his colleagues examined the “speed of aging” in three significant cohorts in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia for the study. As well as Russia. They studied variations in blood cell counts, and the daily amount of steps walked by age groups to identify departures from stable health.
The trend was the same for both blood cells and step counts. As people became older, something other than sickness caused a gradual and predictable loss in the body’s ability to restore blood cells or gait to a stable level following a disturbance. Pyrkov and his colleagues in Moscow and Buffalo, New York, utilized this predictable rate of decline to estimate how long it would take for resistance to vanish, resulting in death ultimately. They came up with a range of 120 to 150 years. (Jeanne Calment, the world’s oldest living person, died in France in 1997 at 122.)
The researchers also discovered that their body responses to insults might become more erratic as people become older, needing more time to recover. According to Whitson, this finding makes sense: a healthy young individual may develop a quick physiological reaction to adjust to changes and return to a personal norm. “Everything is just a little bit muted, a little slower to respond, and you might have overshoots” in an older person, she adds, such as when an illness causes large fluctuations in blood pressure.
Blood pressure and blood cell counts, for example, have a well-defined healthy range, but step counts are highly individualized, as Whitson points out. Pyrkov and his colleagues may have detected the same reduction over time using a metric, unlike blood counts, implying an actual pace-of-aging element at work across domains.
Although most scientists would consider blood cell counts and step counts to be “quite distinct,” study co-author Peter Fedichev, who was educated as a physicist and co-founded Gero, believes that the fact that both sources “paint precisely the same future” implies that the pace-of-aging component is valid.
The findings are reflected in societal aspects, according to the authors. “At roughly the age of 35 to 40 years, we saw a steep shift that was pretty surprising,” Pyrkov adds. For example, he points out that this is frequently the time when an athlete’s sports career comes to an end, “an indicator that something in physiology may be altering at this age.”
The yearning to discover the secrets of immortality has probably existed for as long as people have been aware of death. But, as S. points out, a long life span is not the same as a long healthspan. Jay Olshansky, a University of Illinois at Chicago professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, was not involved in the study. “The emphasis should be on living healthy longer rather than living longer,” he argues.
Whitson states, “Death is not the only thing that counts.” “Other things, such as quality of life, come to matter more and more when individuals suffer the loss of them,” she adds, adding that the death portrayed in this study is the “ultimate lingering death.” And the challenge is: Can we increase life expectancy without increasing the share of time individuals spend in a weak state?”
According to Olshansky, the researchers’ “ultimate conclusion is intriguing to observe.” He puts it like way: “Hey, guess what? In the long term, treating illnesses will not have the desired impact. These basic biological mechanisms of aging will go on indefinitely.”
The thought of slowing down the aging process has piqued interest, not just among Silicon Valley types who fantasize about uploading their memories to computers, but also among academics who see such treatments as a way to “compress morbidity”—that is, to reduce disease and infirmity toward the end of life to lengthen life duration. The influence on the fundamental upper limits established in the Nature Communications research is still up in the air. However, specific research is underway, such as those investigating the diabetic medicine metformin, to reduce aging’s telltale symptoms.
Fedichev and his colleagues seem unconcerned about their estimations of maximal human life span in a similar spirit. In his opinion, their study is just the start of a lengthy journey. Fedichev explains, “Measuring anything is the initial stage before intervening.” The following stages, he says, will be to identify ways to “arrest the loss of resilience” now that the research has assessed this independent rate of aging.