Humans May be Aging More Slowly Than Scientists Expected

First Posted: Apr 20, 2015 06:37 AM EDT

Humans may be aging far more slowly than we think. Scientists have found that faster increases in life expectancy reflect a process in which people become healthier, more capable and younger in many ways over their longer lives.

"Age can be measured as the time already lived or it can be adjusted taking into account the time left to live," said Sergei Scherbov, the leader of the new study, in a news release. "If you don't consider people old just because they reached age 65 but instead take into account how long they have left to live, then the faster the increase in life expectancy, the less aging is actually going on."

Traditional measures of age simply categorize people as "old" at a specific age, usually at the age of 65. However, previous research has shown that the traditional definition puts many people at the category of "old" who have characteristics of much younger people.

"What we think of as old has changed over time, and it will need to continue changing in the future as people live longer, healthier lives," said Scherbov. "Someone who is 60 years old today, I would argue is middle aged. Two hundred years ago, a 60-year-old would be a very old person. The onset of old age is important because it is often used as an indicator of increased disability and dependence, and decreased labor force participation."

The researchers actually examined three scenarios for future population aging in Europe, using three different rates of increase for life expectancy, from no increase to an increase of about 1.4 years per decade, the level projected by other research. In the end, the scientists found that faster increases in life expectancy lead to faster population aging when people are characterized as "old" at age 65 regardless of time or place. However, they also lead to slow population aging when the new measures are used.

The findings are published in the journal PLOS One.

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