The Limit Of Healthy Living: Are We Hitting A Life Expectancy Plateau?

Comparison of male and female life expectancy at birth for countries and territories, the 2013 CIA Factbook

We may be fed a tale of ever expanding life expectancy, but while average lifespans may be rising maximum years are unchanged. If we want to keep extending the clock we need more than antibiotics and nutrition. 

The easy work is done

While improving living standards and reducing infant mortality was not an easy job in itself, it extended years without fundamentally changing human biology. The incredible changes brought by the 20th century yielded longevity - but predominantly did so by lifting the majority closer to those luckier few. Even in the ancient world individuals seemingly lived over 80 years old; it was simply a rarer event to do so. You were significantly more likely to be felled by a disease beforehand, and  many never reached such an advanced age as a result.

Despite the statistics, there is a perpetually rosy glow around life expectancy, and many people are under the illusion it somehow rises by itself. The unfortunate truth is that data suggests we are approaching the absolute limit healthy living can do for us.

Life expectancy over the past 160 years Credit: Oeppen & Vaupel

A good social life, work life balance, optimal nutrition and current medical care can only do so much

This by no means discredits previous efforts or undermines the value of healthy living. Both are and have been essential in improving the lives of millions of people. Unfortunately it appears we may now be approaching a point where your genes and luck play a larger part in deciding how many years you're likely to live on this world. Only by understanding, tinkering and influencing the fundamental aging processes can we begin to truly see life expectancy continue to rise as it has. 

What does this mean?

It means societies across the globe realistically need to invest in age research. Aside from the benefits of added years alone, the average life expectancy boom has led to a multitude of people living longer in poorer health. Achieving longer AND healthier lives is undeniably linked together. One is difficult to achieve without the other at this point, not to mention undesirable to many people. We've recognised the need for greater healthy years, but if we want to see the life expectancy trend rise further then a push for longevity is the only way forward. 

Read more at Singularity Hub and BBC News