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Humans May Already Have Achieved Longest Lifespan

FILE - An elderly couple walks down a hall in Easton, Pennsylvania, Nov. 6, 2015.
FILE - An elderly couple walks down a hall in Easton, Pennsylvania, Nov. 6, 2015.

A new study concludes that in parts of the world, we literally may be living as long as humanly possible.

In the West, the average lifespan is 80. The authors of a study published Wednesday in Nature say data strongly suggest that may be about as good as it gets. In fact, the study suggests the maximum human lifespan may have been achieved in the 1990s.

The average life expectancy rose dramatically from the end of the 19th century and through the 20th, almost on a continuous basis, thanks to medical advancements and improvements in public health. In the United States, the average lifespan increased from 47 years at the turn of the last century to 79 years for the average baby born today.

Researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York based their study on data from the Human Mortality Database, which compiles the mortality and population records of more than 40 countries dating back to 1900.

Records showed a continuing decline in early mortality over time, with survival to old age — defined as 70 years old — increasing gradually with each calendar year of birth.

The study, led by Jan Vijg, chair of the genetics department at Albert Einstein, also looked at survival improvements since 1900 of people age 100 and older. Researchers found that survival tended to peak at 100, and then decline rapidly regardless of the year centenarians were born.

“This finding indicates diminishing gains in reducing late-life mortality and a possible limit to human lifespan,” Vijg reported.

Researchers noted that some people born in the United States, France, Japan and Britain lived to be 110 years old or older between 1968 and 2006. However, the number of so-called supercentenarians is quite small, and considered unattainable by most of the population.

In one instance, researchers identified a 122-year-old French woman named Jeanne Calment as the oldest person on record. Calment, who died in 1997, is considered a statistical outlier. For people who beat the odds and reach triple digits, the most probable maximum lifespan is 115 years of age.

Vijg acknowledged that continued medical developments to improve quality of life — particularly in the developed world — may push average life expectancy beyond 80, but he stressed that researchers do not expect the average human lifespan to ever break 100.