Professor Barzilai, can someone born today hope to live to be 150?

Roland Lindner

Business correspondent in New York.

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This is already possible, and research is being carried out into ways to achieve this.

But it will be some time before we can be sure.

Today, statistically speaking, the maximum age is 115 years, even if there are always individual cases of people who live to be older than 120.

You have conducted a much-noticed long-term study with people who live to be a hundred years old and older, so-called "centenarians".

What's their secret?

It's genes, not lifestyle.

More than half of the participants in the study are or were overweight, we had just two percent vegetarian.

Many smoked heavily, and less than half engaged in only moderate physical activity.

So people didn't do what is always preached about staying healthy.

I had four siblings in the study, one of whom I visited once in her New York apartment when she was 100.

She opened the door, cigarette in hand, and said all four doctors who told her to stop smoking were dead.

But sprightly centenarians are still the exception today.

That's right, and the basic rule is: aging makes people ill, I sometimes say aging is the mother of diseases.

In the last 150 years we have managed to increase life expectancy enormously, it is now around 78 years on average.

This is thanks to medical progress and better infrastructure, for example that we have access to clean water.

But in a way it was a deal with the devil.

In the past, people typically didn't die of cancer, Alzheimer's disease, heart failure or diabetes because they never got old enough to get them.

These diseases are the price of getting older.

Her study suggests that people who didn't win the gene lottery have limited opportunities to help themselves live longer.

Of course you can do something: exercise, eat a healthy diet and get enough sleep.

That increases the chances of making it past the average of 78 years.

But that won't be enough to make it 100 if you don't have the genes for it.

You will need medicine for that.

If aging is so closely related to disease, do we even want to live to be 100?

If living longer means being sick longer, then we really wouldn't want that.

But an interesting finding in my study is that the participants not only live much longer than average, but are also healthier.

Ordinary people typically get sick between the ages of 60 and 80, Centenarians decades later.

Most importantly, they experience a reduction in so-called morbidity, they are ill for a shorter time towards the end of their lives.

For example, my father-in-law's mother lived to be 102 years old and she was only ill for the last two weeks of her life.

There are studies that show that people who live to be more than 100 years old incur lower costs for the healthcare system than those who die between the ages of 60 and 70.

So, purely financially, it doesn't have to be a burden on society if people keep getting older?