What is the upper limit of human lifespan? At one time, reaching the age of 100 was considered to be a remarkable achievement. Yet by 2050, the United Nations estimates there could be as many as 3.7 million centenarians in the world, a major increase from just under 600,000 today. (I hope I’m included; I would be 102.)
A much longer lifespan sounds appealing, but how do we get there?
One approach would be to treat aging as an illness. Steve Austad, a distinguished professor of biology at the University of Alabama, has said “I never thought [extending the human lifespan] was going to happen because we got better at treating cancer or we got better at preventing heart disease. I always thought it was going to happen because we would develop something … that would fundamentally change the rate of aging.” He and other scientists are researching the underlying causes of aging, focusing on the eventual goal of developing medical interventions to slow age-related decay.
Some progress is being made. Scientists have already applied an antifungal used during organ transplants to extend the lifespan of mice. Some revolutionary health treatments that will change how our bodies deal with aging are in the works, like a pill that mimics the benefits of exercise and drugs that trick our internal clock into thinking it’s younger.
And yet… Some believe our bodies have a built-in expiration date. And of course, there are the dangers of our own making, like dying from the effects of poverty, pollution, and any number of accident possibilities.
Would living longer make our lives better or just burden society with more older people? There is the sheer logistics of an increasing population; people living longer means more people vying for the limited resources we have now. We’d certainly have to work most of those extra years. Perhaps the retirement age will become 120 instead of 65?
Would you really want to live to 150? It’s really intriguing to think about.