What is the Human Life Span?

How Not to Confuse Life Span with Life Expectancy

A senior couple drinking coffee together.
A senior couple drinking coffee together. AZarubaika/Getty Images

The human life span is the maximum number of years an individual from the human species can live based on observed examples. Though this definition of life span may seem simple enough, it is often confused for other common concepts in the study of the aging, life, and death of living organisms.

In order to better understand the human life span, let's dive a little deeper into the concept and its important distinctions from other commonly used terms.

Human Life Span Versus Human Life Expectancy

The term life span is most commonly confused with another important concept: life expectancy. While both terms relate to the number of living years, they actually define very different concepts. While the term life span refers to the maximum number of years an individual can live, life expectancy refers to an estimate or an average number of years a person can expect to live. Most simply put, life expectancy can be attributed to and impacted by an individual and their personal health history, genetics, and lifestyle, whereas life span holds for all living humans.

For example, my life expectancy is affected by personal factors like my family history, my environment, my diet, and even my age and sex. My life expectancy might be different for your life expectancy and it may even change over time. Our life spans, however, are one in the same. We share it as members of the same species.

So what is the human life span?

What is the Human Life Span?

Given that the human life span is defined by the longest observed human life from birth to death, it is a figure that has changed over the years. For humans, the current accepted maximum life span is 122 years. This age was achieved by Jeane Louise Calment of France.

Calment lived from February 21, 1875 to August 4, 1997 until she was exactly 122 years and 164 days old. Remarkably, Calment remained relatively healthy and mentally intact until her 122nd birthday.

Though there have certainly been claims of longer lives, none of the claims were acceptably documented and verified. Calment remains the first verified person to reach any age between 116 and 122 and the only verified person to reach the age of 122.

Closing the Gap Between Life Expectancy and Life Span

With the United State's average life expectancy currently hovering at around 78.88 years, the age to which most Americans can expect to live is still forty-four years younger than the human life span. So how do we close that gap and elongate our lives? There will always be factors that are out of our individual control like our inherited genes, but we shouldn't discount the impact of those that we can control. It is generally understood that closing the gap between life expectancy and life span can be done through healthier living, less exposure to toxins, the prevention of chronic illnesses, and a little bit of luck.

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