I don’t blame the tech billionaires investigating how to live forever – even if scientists do say 125 years is our limit

Another study shows that although average life expectancy has risen by 10 years since 1990, the healthy life expectancy (the years without serious illness or disability) rose by only 6.1 years

Click to follow

Queen sang “Who wants to live forever?”  – and this week, a bunch of scientists reckon that 125 years may be our physical limit. I don’t want to believe that for a nanosecond. Over the last 200 years, life expectancy for women has almost doubled, from 42 to 83. Throughout my seven decades, better medical care, new drugs and a greater awareness of health have resulted in a youthful-minded generation who refuse to contemplate death the way our parents did.

By the time they reached retirement age, my mum and dad were stooped and slow, their lungs and hearts messed up by smoking. Lack of gadgets meant they had worked physically harder, walked further and ate a pretty restricted diet. In the post-war years, old age was synonymous with a gradual slowing down, smaller horizons, less physical engagement.

Not any more – most baby boomers work hard at cheating and delaying the ageing process in any way they can, even spending time each day completing puzzles to keep our brains active and (hopefully) stave off the dreaded D-word (dementia). For all these efforts to turn our bodies into longevity machines, the number of people who actually live over 100 has not increased, and after studying a group of “super-centenarians” (who have lived beyond 110) scientists say we are very unlikely to be able to exceed 125 years on earth.

One group of people will treat this news with utter contempt are the tech billionaires. For all their business rivalry, they are united by a common goal: to live as long as possible. Longevity represents the ultimate challenge. Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle, once said, “Death has never made any sense to me” – which explains why he has poured over $430m (£346m) into anti-ageing research and biomedical techniques seeking the holy grail of permanent youth.

In 2014, venture capitalists invested over $8.3bn (£6.7bn) into medical research in the US, with the aim of improving and extending life, and many tech billionaires are funding their own labs to try and eradicate life-threatening diseases like cancer. Peter Thiel, who sold PayPal for billions, is one investor, who says that “death is the greatest enemy”. Thiel wants to live to 150.

With Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia affecting up to a third of the elderly, it’s clear where our priorities should lie: there’s no point in living to 125 if you don’t know where you are. Diet and exercise can only play a limited part in ensuring a productive old age. This week, one group of doctors claimed that playing golf can prevent up to 40 chronic diseases and extend life by up to five years!

Another study shows that although average life expectancy has risen by 10 years since 1990, the healthy life expectancy (the years without serious illness or disability) rose by only 6.1 years. Cancer, heart disease, dementia, arthritis and back pain all have a huge impact on our quality of life in late middle age. What’s the point of living longer, if we’re suffering chronic pain?

Tech billionaires are using their wealth not just to cheat death, but to reinvent old age, but the result could mean that only the richest in society live the longest. And if medical science could produce drugs or procedures that rebuilt our DNA to give us extra decades, what would be the impact on existing health provision? Should this treatment be rationed? Like cosmetic surgery, will DNA manipulation just be for those who can afford it?

Over half the population think that living over a certain age is “unnatural”, but I don’t agree. What would you pay to live to be 125? Would you sell your home? Would you invest in DNA research? Or is the search for ultra-longevity doomed to failure? I’m with Larry Ellison – I don’t fear dying, but I want to delay it as long as I can.