FOR RELEASE: April 9, 2015
Top aging researcher: Human life span could increase 20 years this century
(Washington, DC) -- Based on the current pace of increases in longevity, the average human life could last 20 years longer within the next 80 years, Dr. Richard Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging at National Institutes of Health, said at a National Press Club Newsmaker on May 7.
“I would not bet against it,” said Hodes, the country’s leader of research on aging. Armed with bar graphs, he said that since 1840, “we have gained one year every four years, moving from the 40s to the 80s.”
Advances in public health, medicine, improved nutrition and regular physical exercise have contributed to “positive outcomes" for aging, Hodes said.
For the first time in human history, there are “more older adults than younger children,” Hodes said. He added that the number of people living into their “80s and older will double or triple. While there are currently tens of thousands of people over 100, there will soon be millions” by 2030.
He emphasized that “living longer is not the whole picture. We want to expand a healthy lifespan without disability and with independence.”
In research supported by NIA, studies have "helped older mice to look like younger rodents," through techniques that, for example, can improve wound healing and muscle strength. He said that scientists now want to see how they might “want to reproduce this phenomenon without side effects in humans – cells doing damage.”
Fitness is important to extending life and improving health, Hodes said, adding that it is never “too late to change.” One program helped people prevent disability, even when started in their 60s. For people with diabetes, “exercise and diet had a huge effect."
During the Newsmaker, Hodes showcased NIA’s exercise and physical activity campaign called Go4Life that focuses on a balanced exercise program of endurance, strength, balance and flexibility.
Dixon Hemphill, who has served as the NPC’s 5K Race director, turned 90 this year and just set three world records in track in March for people in their 90s, also spoke at the Newsmaker on the importance of exercise.
Social connectivity also is important, Hodes said.
“Acquaintances, friends and relationships you have are a very good predictor of health outcomes," Hodes said. "If you have many close relationships with individuals who smoke, you’re more likely to smoke; or people who are obese, or friends who exercise.”
In response to a question on why women live four years longer than men (80 versus 76), and whether equalizing stressful jobs will equalize the life spans, Hodes said that smoking and stress are part of the difference.
"We’d like to see that gap narrow because men are doing better, not the other way around," he added.
One area of concern is Alzheimer’s disease, now the 6th leading killer of people over 65, Hodes said. That the number is “understated” because people die from other health problems, like aspiration, which are related to the disease, and those are cited as the cause of death, Hodes said.
“Clinical interventions so far for Alzheimer’s are not successful in changing the course of the disease," Hodes said. "It’s difficult to reverse or correct. Earlier biomarkers, before irreversible damage occurs, provide the greatest hope to treat years before onset.”
The first clinical trials with individuals with genetic or a family history of Alzheimer’s are now being conducted, Hodes said.