How long can we live?

As belief in the afterlife fades and as focus on health and tech grows there is a desire to figure out the magical combination of the two that will allow people (or those that can afford it) to live forever. That, frankly, is pie in the sky and still we die stuff. So how long can humans live for?

Humans aren’t built to last forever. The oldest person on record was Jeanne Calment, a Frenchwoman, who died in 1997 at the age of 122. In 2040, the average life span for people in Spain, projected to pass Japan as the country with the longest-lived citizens, will reach about 86 years.

It’s worth noting that the upper limit has been broadly stable for as long as we have records for. Think everyone died young in ancient societies? Think again

The maximum human lifespan (approximately 125 years) has barely changed since we arrived. It is estimated that if the three main causes of death in old age today – cardiovascular disease, stroke, and cancer – were eliminated, the developed world would see only a 15-year increase in life expectancy. While an individual living to 125 in the distant past would have been extremely rare, it was possible. And some things about the past, such as men being valued for their power and women for their beauty, have changed little.

You may see the occasional piece with a headline like A New Study Is Questioning The Limits of Human Lifespan but then you read it and discover that, no, it isn’t, not really. The outlier prediction here was 128. The big difference between then and now is not how long we live but how many are living that long. And due to all the advances a great many more of us can expect to live well past our 80s and 90s. 

This makes sense with two relevant passages in the Bible that refer to human lifespans.* Psalm 90:10 talks about living for 70 or 80 years if we have strength. This makes sense in that for the Psalmist the observable upper limit was around 70 or 80 which tallies with what we know about ancient societies. Genesis 6:3 has God limiting humans lifespan to 120 years which is pretty much what it is and has been. Almost no one out of 7 billion people will live that long – maybe 3 or 4. Out. of. 7. billion.

Whatever the case may be life for humans is not very long – so choose carefully and wisely what you do with what you have.

*In this regard the Bible seems to get lifespan right, as long of course as you discount Genesis 1-5 which has a tribe of people living several multiples of 120. I don’t quite know if I’ve ever landed on a satisfactory explanation for that one, other than to think a longer life was given at the favour and discretion of God and then withdrawn.  

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