What is Life Longevity?

The term “longevity” is being used more and more, with more research and interest in how to increase life longevity, and what changes can we make, if any, to our day-to-day life to improve it.

Longevity is a very complex phenomenon. This is due to the fact that an array of environmental, behavioural, socio-demographic and dietary factors can influence the physiological pathways of ageing and life expectancy (1). 

What exactly do we mean by the term longevity and what exactly are all of the factors which can influence it? Well, we’re here to delve into the research, so you don’t have to! 

This 2 part mini blog series will cover how longevity is defined, how it varies around the world, gender differences, key factors which can impact longevity and Blue Zones.

What is longevity?

Longevity has a number of different definitions, including:

  • A long duration of individual life
  • Length of life
  • The capability to survive past the average age of death
  • Gerontologists use the term longevity to refer to any individual who is beyond the age 90 and actively functional

It also comes from the Latin word longaevitas: longus means long, and aevum means age – together meaning, “long age.” 

Is longevity the same as life expectancy?

The terms longevity and life expectancy are often used interchangeably. They do tend to refer to two separate, although related topics, but the use for each is situation-dependent.

Longevity usually refers to a specific long-lived population or members of a population – people who live longer than their life expectancy. Whereas life expectancy refers to the average number of years a person may live.

However, when used synonymously, the concept of longevity can have a double meaning: individual longevity relating to long-lived individuals and population longevity usually described by the term life expectancy. 

Is there a limit to longevity? 

Potentially, although this is not entirely clear. Caruso, C. et al. (2022) noted that demographic evidence shows a continued decrease in mortality in old age, in addition to a rise in the maximum age at death – over time, this might extend human longevity. This, therefore, suggests that there are potentially no strict constraints that exist for human longevity. However, in saying that, survival improvements with age tend to decline after age around the age of 100. The age of death of the world’s oldest person (Jeanne Calment, 21 February 1875–4 August 1997) has not changed in the last 30 years. She lived to 122 years old!

Data of all Italians aged 105 or over between 2009 and 2015 was analysed and has provided proof of the existence of a plateau of mortality at extreme age. The information collected suggests that the maximum human lifespan is fixed and subject to natural constraints (5).

How does population longevity vary around the world?

Human longevity continues to increase on a global scale (3). There has also been a marked increase in life expectancy in the last century – the world has gone from having almost no countries with a life expectancy higher than 50 years to having many countries with a life expectancy of 80 years!

Although population longevity is rising overall, it varies a great deal around the world. More economically developed countries (MEDCs) have a higher life expectancy than less economically developed countries (LEDCs). For example, in 2019, the populations of MEDCs such as Australia had life expectancies which exceed 80 years, whereas LEDCs, such as the Central African Republic, had the lowest life expectancy of 53 years.

There are a multitude of reasons why this is the case, and all will be discussed in Longevity Part 2. We will also cover gender differences in longevity, the concept of ‘Blue Zones’ and the impact of increased longevity on the economy. Stay tuned.


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References

  1. Stefanadis, Christodoulos and Chrysohoou, Christina (2013) Longevity and diet. Myth or pragmatism? – PubMed, PubMed. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24210636/ (Accessed: October 25, 2022).
  2. Definition of LONGEVITY (2022) Longevity Definition & Meaning – Merriam-Webster. Available at: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/longevity (Accessed: October 25, 2022).
  3. Ross Watson, R. and Karam Singh, V. (2014) Enhanced Longevity and Role of Omega-3 Fatty Acids, Enhanced Longevity and Role of Omega-3 Fatty Acids – ScienceDirect
  4. Institut Fur Demographie (2014). Vienna Yearbook of Population Research 2013. Austrian Academy of Sciences.
  5. Caruso, C. et al. (2022) How Important Are Genes to Achieve Longevity?, MDPI
Georgia Chilton

Published by Georgia Chilton

In her teenage years, a love of food and rowing led Georgia into this field as she wanted to know how to optimise performance through nutrition. With a BSc in Nutrition and an MSc in Sports and Exercise Nutrition, she has the skill set to help you track towards your goals and maximise your potential.

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