Maximum Human Lifespan May Be Leaping

Actuarial Escape Velocity

ntil 1980, there were no reliably validated claims that anyone had lived longer than 112 years. Then, for two decades (from 1980 to 2000)—for no clearly apparent reason—the maximum reported (and reliably validated) age of death leaped by 10 years, from 112 to 122 (the “gold-standard” lifespan of Mme. Jeanne Calment), with numerous others in between.

What Could Such a Leap Mean?

In testimony given before the Senate Special Committee on Aging (June 3, 2003), demographic researcher Dr. James W. Vaupel provided evidence suggesting that average human life expectancy is not approaching its limit.1 For example, over the last 160 years in Japan, the average life expectancy for women has advanced steadily by 3 months per year. As of 2007, their life expectancy was 86, and there is no evidence of any slowing, as would be true if a ceiling loomed. In the United States, with the release of 2006 data by the Centers for Disease Control this June, our own leap upward continues, with sharp drops in mortality and with lifespan increases approaching those of Japan.2

Life extension authors and scientists Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw have long argued that there will come a critical point when the rate of advancement will exceed the rate of decline, and we will be able to add more than a year of life for every year lived. Life extension thinkers Ray Kurzweil and Aubrey de Grey agree and refer to this as the “actuarial escape velocity.” But when? In little more than a decade, they believe, the rate of death’s approach will be exceeded by the rate of technology-driven lifespan increases, and indefinite lifespan may become possible. It is as if you’re traveling in a spacecraft away from the planet and ultimately experience a release from gravity’s pull. Metaphorically, you have broken free and reached actuarial escape velocity.

Buy In, Break Free

Where are life extensionists in 2008 with regard to all this? Just as there are different regional and categorical statistics (e.g., Guam has a lower age-adjusted death rate than Hawaii; Hawaiians of Japanese heritage live longer than other Hawaiians),2 there should be an advantage for life extensionists. Extrapolating from projections and the belief that supplementation adds life to your years—and years to your life—extensionists may be running as high as 30–40% of actuarial escape velocity. So perhaps, for those of us who are truly serious about our health, the time will be sooner rather than later. For those who have not yet taken all the steps to benefit from supplements, the time to buy in may be now.


  1. Vaupel JW. The future of human longevity—how important are markets and innovation? Sci Aging Knowledge Environ 2003 Jul 2;2003(26):PE18.
  2. U.S. Mortality Drops Sharply in 2006, Latest Data Show. Centers for Disease Control, press release, June 11, 2008.

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