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How Long Can We Live

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Life Expectancy – From the ancient past to the present 

According to the World Health Organization, the average human life expectancy on earth was 73.4 years in 2019. This is a dramatic increase from our ancestors. From 3.3 million years ago, when the first human type species arose to the 5th century CE (around 400 AD), our ancestors’ life expectancy at birth was in the range of 20 years to 30 years.

Life expectancy then gradually rose to around 46 years by 1950. From 1950 to today, life expectancy suddenly and rapidly increased by close to 60%. The rate of increase has continued, and before the COVID pandemic, the years from 2000 to 2019 saw a rise in life expectancy of nearly six years from 66.8 years to 73.4 years.

The primary reasons for a longer and healthier life for more people are that wealth on both a global scale and within countries has become more widely spread. In addition, as democratic ideals took hold, more people had a say in their government, which meant that they demanded and got better food sources, better medical help, and a more leisurely, less physical life.

Japan is one of the most egalitarian societies on earth, and it has the highest life expectancy of 84.3 years. The life expectancy of Indians has increased to 70.8 years (in 2019).

How much older can we get

The increase of life expectancy from 30 years 2,000 years ago to 73.4 years today is almost miraculous. So the question is – how much longer can we live?

Jeanne Calment is recorded to be the person who lived the longest – 122 years! However, recent studies propose that the limit to a human’s life span, without the use of genetic engineering or artificial additions, is close to 150 years.

To arrive at these theoretical figures, scientists measure how our human organs decline with age. However, if medical advances and genetic engineering are considered, the possibility of living up to 250 years is also speculated. Further, advances in robotics and the use of artificial materials – such as titanium limbs – and even theoretically new brain cells mean that 250 years may also be young for a human living 1,000 years from today!

More fundamental questions

Perhaps more fundamental questions to ask about living longer are:

Will the earth have enough resources for more people to live longer – say, an average life expectancy of 100 years? Imagine the earth’s population at 10 billion at the end of this century and with the average life expectancy being 100. That is a lot of mouths to feed!

What will we do with our lives – living so long? What purpose and meaning do we give our existence?  This is also a question to be asked of ourselves today. 

Benjamin Franklin, the great American scientist, author, and freedom seeker, gave us sage advice when he wrote, “A long life may not be good enough, but a good life is long enough.”

© Kaikhushru Taraporevala

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