How Long Can We Live?

April 30, 2010

Current thinking is that the human life span maxes out at about 120 years, with women, on average, outliving men by about 7 years. In the future, there may be a way to extend this time through genetic tinkering but at the moment that is beyond our reach.

Definition: Genetics is the branch of biology that studies heredity and variation in organisms. It has been known for thousands of years that organisms inherit traits from their parents. The mechanisms for accomplishing this are called genes. We get them from our parents as they got theirs from our grandparents. Our genes, in conjunction with our nutrition and a whole host of environmental factors help determine our height, body shape, longevity etc.

Our lives tend to come to an end in one of three ways:

  • Accidents
  • Disease
  • Senesence

Accidents can result in death at any point in our lives but are more frequently the cause of death in people under 40 than over 40.

Disease can also result in death at any point in our lives although some diseases tend to occur more frequently in particular age groupings, e.g. measles in young people and cancer in older people.

Senesence is the aging process which eventually results in tissue death and organ malfunction. It happens to humans, animals, plants and the individual cells in our bodies. It is nature’s way of assuring we don’t all live forever and overcrowd the planet. The process begins at different times and in different ways in various individuals, but really begins in earnest once we have passed our reproductive years. What causes senescence in humans? This isn’t completely understood (other than it is “natural” – in our nature) but the leading candidates include:

  • It is due to an accumulation of damage to our bodies cells resulting from the by-products of metabolism and exposure to environmental toxins
  • It is hard-wired into our genetics
  • A combination of cell damage and genetics

Definition: Metabolism is the process by which our bodies convert the food we consume into energy that can be put to use by our bodies.

The main point is that all organisms, including ourselves, eventually die. The longer we live, the closer we are to death, with about 120 years being our maximum life span. Since death is inevitable, it behooves us to live the lifetime available to us in as full and meaningful a way as possible and, when senescence catches up with us, to hope for a quick, pain-free and graceful passing on.

Is there any good news? Yes! While we may be limited to 120 years our genes are not and if we have offspring, our genes, albeit slightly altered, can continue to live on in them for generations.

What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal. – Albert Pines

R. Kevin Price

© 2008-2010 R.K. Price