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115 May Not Be The Magic Number

Mature woman doing yoga in the park

The science of aging is a particular obsession of many of us who hope to enjoy healthy, long lives. We often do our best to keep up to date on research and do our best to ensure we’re taking care of ourselves in such a way as to ensure as long of a lifespan as possible. A healthy diet, regular exercise, and being kind to our bodies all contribute to improving quantity and quality of life. Last year a study was published that threatened, in some ways, the eternal human quest for some form of immortality. The study, published in Nature, posited that the absolutely maximum lifespan for human while allowing for a handful of exceptions was around 115 years. Researchers reached these conclusions utilizing demographic information. These results are currently being challenged by other scientists who believe the number could be higher.

Understanding the Debate
At its core, this debate is simply a manifestation of the scientific process itself. The original researchers utilized a particular set of data, analyzed it, came to conclusions, and then had it published in a prestigious journal. This means the original study was considered of sufficient quality to be broadly shared with the scientific community. The original study doesn’t necessarily put a hard limit at the age of 115, but instead puts the odds of living much longer than that as being statistically improbable. The researchers currently challenging this information believe that modern medicine and techniques will have sufficiently altered the data set used by the researchers to the point that the maximum lifespan rests closer to 125 years. Furthermore, the researchers are also challenging the initial study on the basis that the data used suffers from an overall flawed methodology. None of this really means terribly much for those of us outside of scientific circles though. There’s no usable information in the debate and it remains a difficult thing to test for accuracy.

What It Means To Us
Knowing that the theoretical length of one’s life is at maximum 115 or 125 years isn’t going to change much for the majority of us. Consider the fact that we’re all unique combinations of genetics that possess varied mutations in our genes. Some of these are beneficial, some detrimental, and many are value neutral. These mutations, when combined with our lifestyles, tend to play a lot into how close we can reach to any maximum lifespan, theoretical or otherwise. Many Western cultures have less than perfect records when it comes to overall public health. Various common health issues end up degrading the overall actual life expectancy of many of us even when there is a possible maximum. On top of this, there is also the consideration of where we live and what kind of resources we have available. Those with more resources tend to have longer lives because they can afford the treatments to keep them healthier longer. The final consideration we need to keep in mind with all of this is the problem of quantity vs. quality of life.

Who Wants To Live Forever?
A lot of us obsesses with increasing the numerical length of our lives without the consideration that we’ll be living those years with aged bodies. It isn’t a comfortable set of thoughts for many of us, but it needs to be remembered that we too will get older and that a greater number of years brings with it more health problems. Quantity of life is nothing to the majority of us without the quality of life. The obsession with life extension seldom takes this into account. What many of us should instead be focusing on is encouraging people to look into ways that we can all extend our quality of life for long before we push for even longer lives. After all, what good is living to 115 or 125 if you’re mostly bedridden? Being able to be out in the world and doing things is what drives the majority of us and without that, it isn’t much of a life at all. This is worth remembering any time people begin obsessively discussing how long humans might live.

The current debate over whether humans can live, at most, to around 115 years of age or 125 years of age is largely academic. Scientists are debating the merits of a particular data set and the means their peers arrived at a particular conclusion. It isn’t doing anything for us immediately. What we should be focusing more on is how to ensure our lives remain comfortable and happy for however long they last. That is ultimately what we’ll get more out of than simply living longer.

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