ODENSE, Denmark — Aging and death can be uncomfortable topics for many people to talk about, especially as they grow older. While scientists have developed several ways to slow the aging process, a new study finds immortality is (not surprisingly) out of reach. An international team says, no matter how hard we try, every species on Earth has a generally fixed rate of aging that science can’t stop.
“Human death is inevitable. No matter how many vitamins we take, how healthy our environment is or how much we exercise, we will eventually age and die,” says Fernando Colchero from the University of Southern Denmark in a release.
Aging vs. life expectancy
Colchero and his team applied statistics and mathematics to information on populations and life expectancy throughout history. Their findings reveal, although people live longer today than they did in the distant past, the rate of aging among humans really isn’t changing all that much. Simply put, researchers believe today’s life expectancy has less to do with people growing older and more to do with fewer people dying earlier in life.
“Life expectancy has increased dramatically and still does in many parts of the world. But this is not because we have slowed our rate of aging; the reason is that more and more infants, children and young people survive and this brings up the average life expectancy,” Colchero explains.
The team compared data on birth and death patterns from nine human populations to information about 30 non-human primate populations. These groups include gorillas, chimpanzees, and baboons living in the wild as well as in zoos.
This comparison looked at two key factors, life expectancy, the average age at which someone dies, and lifespan equality, which measures how many deaths actually occur during old age. Those results reveal that as life expectancy increases, so does lifespan equality.
In modern countries, like Japan and Sweden, their lifespan equality is currently very high as most of the population reaches their 70s and 80s before dying. However, the study finds if you go back to the 1800s, fewer people in those same countries reached old age — lowering the average life expectancy.
Children of all species are living longer
Researchers note their previous studies have also discovered how closely life expectancy and lifespan equality are tied to each other among humans. The link remains basically the same going back to the hunter-gatherers, to pre-industrial European countries, and to modern industrialized nations. Moreover, study authors find this pattern also works with other primates too.
“We observe that not only humans, but also other primate species exposed to different environments, succeed in living longer by reducing infant and juvenile mortality. However, this relationship only holds if we reduce early mortality, and not by reducing the rate of aging,” Colchero adds.
So can scientists do anything to prevent our eventual demise? Colchero says there’s always hope.
“Not all is lost, medical science has advanced at an unprecedented pace, so maybe science might succeed in achieving what evolution could not: to reduce the rate of aging.”
The study appears in the journal Nature Communications.