Humans can theoretically live forever, but it’s a coin toss after 110

THE STAR/ AFP – Humans can probably live to at least 130, and possibly well beyond, though the chances of reaching such super old age remain vanishingly small, according to new research.

The outer limit of the human lifespan has long been hotly debated, with recent studies making the case that we could live up to 150 years, or arguing that there is no maximum theoretical age for humans.

The new research, published on September 29 in the Royal Society Open Science journal, wades into the debate by analysing new data on supercentenarians (people aged 110 or more) and semi-supercentenarians (people aged 105 to 109).

While the risk of death generally increases throughout our lifetime, the researchers’ analysis shows that the risk eventually plateaus and remains constant at approximately 50-50.

“Beyond age 110, one can think of living another year as being almost like flipping a fair coin,” said lead researcher and Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) Professor of StatisticsAnthony Davison. “If it comes up heads, then you live to your next birthday, and if not, then you will die at some point within the next year,” he said.

Based on the data available so far, it seems likely that humans can live until at least 130, but extrapolating from the findings “would imply that there is no limit to the human lifespan”, the research concludes. The conclusions match similar statistical analyses done on datasets of the very elderly.

“But this study strengthens those conclusions and makes them more precise because more data are now available,” Professor Davison said.

The first dataset the team studied is newly released material from the International Database on Longevity, which covers more than 1,100 supercentenarians from 13 countries.

The second is from Italy on every person who was at least 105 between January 2009 and December 2015. The work involves extrapolating from existing data, but Professor Davison said that was a logical approach.

“Any study of extreme old age, whether statistical or biological, will involve extrapolation,” he said.