The human life span is theoretically limitless, a study suggests - adding fuel to a longstanding debate about our mortality

Odette Ambulher will celebrate her 111th birthday in October 2012 in a retirement home in the French village of Laigne-en-Belin. BSIP / Universal Images Group via Getty
The oldest person to ever live was 122 years old, but research shows that humans could live longer.
After reaching 108, people have a 50 percent chance of living until their next birthday every year, says one study.
In theory, this suggests that human life span is unlimited, but biologists disagree.
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A person's risk of death doubles roughly every nine years.
But that changes when you hit 108, according to a mathematical modeling study published last month. After that, your probability of dying increases to 50-50 each year.
“Think of it like a coin toss - when you hit 108, you toss a coin on your birthday. If head comes up, you'll live until your next birthday. If it's number, you'll die before you turn 109, ”Anthony Davison, a statistician at the Federal Institute of Technology who co-authored the study, told Insider. "And if you come for a later birthday, your probability of death doesn't change."
According to this logic, Davison's team wrote, this would "imply that the human lifespan is unlimited".
It's a controversial idea - one that, of course, hasn't been confirmed by reality.
The longest time a person has ever lived is 122 years, 5 months and 14 days - a record set by Jeanne Calment in France in 1997. The medical and technological advances of the past quarter century have not led anyone to cross this threshold. despite everything that statistical models suggest is possible. And while the average life expectancy of a person has increased by decades in the past 100 years or so, our maximum life expectancy hasn't shifted nearly as much.
Many biologists believe that it is currently impossible to extend human life to this extent. But they argue for a long time with mathematicians about how much time we get on earth.
Your chance of making it to 130 is less than one in 1 million
Jeanne Calment was kissed by two young girls in 1995 during a ceremony at a retirement home in Arles, France. Calment died in 1997 at the age of 122 - the only person known to have lived that long.
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To work out their numbers, Davison's team looked at mortality data from people who were 105 years old.
They found that fewer men reached this age than women - the ratio was one man for every 10 women. But the 50-50 chance of survival was roughly the same for all genders and geographic locations once people reached 108.
Even so, Davison himself said that his results do not mean that people can live forever. The coin toss has a catch: the population over 108 is halved every year. So if 1,000 Supercentenarians toss their coins, an average of 500 will die. Then 250 of the remaining ones will die the following year.
By extrapolating this math, Davison's group concluded that a person's chance of making it to 130 is less than one in a million.
Brandon Milholland, a geneticist at Albert Einstein College of Medicine who was not involved in the study, told Insider that while it is statistically possible to reach any age, the likelihood is so extremely small that it doesn't make sense to claim that there is no limit to human life span.
In this sense, the new study makes "a mountain out of a molehill".
"Someone could live to be 1,000 years old, but the odds are 1 in 1 trillion," added Milholland. (If all the people who have ever lived in the history of the species were added together, we would still fall below 1 trillion.)
Imagine life like a flume ride
Biologists claim that at some point our bodies will reach a point after which the next disease or disease we get will kill us - that is our maximum lifespan.
Andrei Gudkov, professor of cell stress biology at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in Buffalo, New York, said experts look at the body's resilience to calculate this maximum. This is its ability to return to normal function after illness or a biological stressor.
A family rides a flume at Skegness Pleasure Beach, England, in August 2020. Mike Egerton / PA Images / Reuters
Think of your life as a boat on a flume - except that the walls that are supposed to keep the boat from falling out of the water get shorter and shorter as you go. These walls represent your body's resilience, which usually decreases as you age. Think of illness as a force pushing the boat against the walls. At the beginning of your life, when the walls are high, your boat will stay on course. But with age, these walls get shorter and the same bumps eventually force the boat over the edge and out of motion.
"When you get to the point where resilience goes to zero, even a small illness will cause that definitive decline," Gudkov told Insider. "You can die of anything."
Resilience decreases with age, as our cells double in the course of our lives and accumulate mutations. Ultimately, these mutations make a cell inoperable.
But the exact limit of the maximum life expectancy of our species remains up for debate. A 2016 study found the upper end to be 150, although research by Milholland's group in the same year suggested an age close to 125.
The French cyclist Robert Marchand cycles on October 26, 2018 at the age of 106 in the Indoor Velodrome National of Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines in Montigny-le-Bretonneux, France.
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The results of the new study, meanwhile, suggest someone should beat Calment's record by at least eight years.
"It is implausible that an upper limit of the human lifespan is below about 130 years," the authors write.
Léo Raymond-Belzile, one of Davison's co-authors, told Insider that "in my lifetime he could see Joan's life record broken".
"You have exhausted your chances of death"
Daw Thein Khin, a 100-year-old coronavirus survivor, prays at her home in Yangon, Myanmar on October 13, 2020. Shwe Paw Mya Tin // Reuters
The new study also brings up another hotly debated topic among age experts: whether our risk of death will ever flatten.
A mathematical model from the 19th century, the so-called Gompertz equation, showed that the risk of death increases exponentially with increasing age - this is how the health insurance companies calculate the premiums.
But Davison's study refutes that idea. His group's calculation suggests, instead, that by the time you hit 108, as Richard Faragher, a biogerentologist from the University of Brighton, put it, "you've exhausted your chances of death."
However, Faragher, who was not involved in the study, added that "it is poor consolation because your chances of dying are still so high".
Milholland disagrees. The evidence of a plateau of death is weak and controversial, he said, and it makes no sense that the biological drivers that increase our likelihood of death suddenly stop.
"Even if such plateaus exist, they aren't even compelling evidence that there are no lifetimes," he said.
100-year-old Heinz Jacoby receives a coronavirus vaccination from Dr. Anna Häring-Haj Kheder in Bochum, Germany, September 30, 2021. Roland Weihrauch / picture alliance via Getty
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One thing that aging experts agree on is that while average life expectancy has increased, our maximum life expectancy has not increased accordingly.
"That means, even if we treat all age-related diseases, we are still dying from something that is ticking inside us," said Gudkov.
However, Raymond-Belzile suggested that increasing life expectancy could eventually change the known maximum age. Because if enough people become supercentenarians, the chance increases that one of them will live to be over 122 years old.
"The more people play the game, the greater the chance someone will be a lucky winner," he said.
Read the original article on Business Insider
In this article:
Jeanne Calment
French supercentenarian, oldest person

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