Considering these stats, you can expect the longest lifespan record to rise as well. Yet nearly a quarter of a century after Calment’s death, no one is known to have matched, let alone surpassed, his 122 years. The closest was an American named Sarah Knauss, who died at 119, two years after Calment. The oldest person alive is Kane Tanaka, 118, who resides in Fukuoka, Japan. Very few people go past 115. (A few researchers have even questioned whether Calment really lived as long as she claimed, although most accept her record as legitimate based on the weight of the biographical evidence.)
As the world’s population approaches eight billion and science finds increasingly promising ways to slow or reverse aging in the laboratory, the question of the potential limits of human longevity is more pressing than ever. When their work is closely examined, it is clear that longevity scientists have a wide range of nuanced perspectives on the future of humanity. Historically, however – and somewhat offhand, according to many researchers – their outlook has been divided into two broad camps, which some journalists and researchers refer to as the pessimists and the optimists. Members of the first group see the lifespan as a candle wick that can only burn for so long. They generally think that we are quickly approaching, or have already reached, a lifetime cap, and that we won’t be seeing anyone older than Calment anytime soon.
In contrast, optimists see lifespan as an extremely elastic band, if not infinitely infinite. They predict huge gains in life expectancy around the world, a growing number of extraordinarily longevity people – and ultimately, supercentenarians who survive Calment, pushing the record high to 125, 150, 200 and beyond. While unresolved, the long-standing debate has already inspired a much deeper understanding of what defines and constrains lifespan – and interventions that could one day extend it significantly.
Theoretical limits over the span of a human lifetime have vexed scientists and philosophers for thousands of years, but for most of history their discussions have been largely based on personal reflections and observations. In 1825, however, British actuary Benjamin Gompertz published a new mathematical model of mortality, which demonstrated that the risk of death increased exponentially with age. If this risk continued to accelerate throughout life, people would eventually reach a point where they had virtually no chance of surviving until the following year. In other words, they would reach an effective limit of lifespan.
Instead, Gompertz observed that as people move into old age, the risk of death leveled off. “The limit on the possible length of life is a subject that will probably never be determined,” he wrote, “even if it exists. Since then, using new data and more sophisticated mathematics, other scientists around the world have uncovered further evidence of accelerating death rates followed by death plateaus not only in humans but also in many. other species, including rats, mice, shrimp, nematodes and fruit flies. and beetles.
In 2016, a particularly provocative study in the prestigious research journal Nature strongly hinted that the authors had found the limit of human lifespan. Jan Vijg, a geneticist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and two colleagues analyzed decades of mortality data from several countries and concluded that although the highest age at death in those countries has increased rapidly between the 1970s and 1990s, he had failed. has since increased, stagnating at 114.9 years on average. Human lifespan, it seemed, had reached its limit. Although some individuals, like Jeanne Calment, can reach staggering ages, they were outliers and not indicators of continued life expectancy.
“Could someone run a two-minute mile?” No. The human body is unable to move that fast due to anatomical limitations.