National Press Club

Top aging researcher: Human life span could increase 20 years this century

May 8, 2015 | By Robert Weiner and Autumn Kelly | weinerpublic@comcast.net

Dr. Richard J Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging, said that humans are on a trajectory to live 20 years longer by the end of this century at a National Press Club Newsmaker news conference on May 7.

Dr. Richard J Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging, said that humans are on a trajectory to live 20 years longer by the end of this century at a National Press Club Newsmaker news conference on May 7.

Photo/Image: Noel St. John

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 [lifespan] from the 40s to the 80s.”

Advances in medicine, improved nutrition with caloric restrictions 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 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.”

He emphasized that “living longer is not the whole picture. We want to expand a healthy lifespan without disability and with independence.”

In his research, Hodes has "helped older mice to look like younger rodents" by improving wound healing and muscle strength. He said that his labs “want to reproduce this phenomenon without side effects in humans – cells doing damage.”

Fitness is important to extending life, Hodes said, adding that it is never “too late to change.” One program helps disabled people even when they start in their 60s. For people with diabetes, “exercise and diet had a huge affect."

During the Newsmaker, Hodes announced the launch of an NIA exercise and physical activity campaign called Go4Life that focuses on fitness and mobility.

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, now measured by social media, 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 malnutrition or falling, which develop from the disability, 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 studies of individuals with genetic or a family history of Alzheimers are now being conducted, Hodes said.