Charting a course to extreme old age

Life expectancy is, on the whole, going up and up across the world. The global average life expectancy now stands at 68.2 years for men and 73.2 years for women, although in some countries such as Swaziland, Lesotho and the Central African Republic, you're still unlikely to reach your fiftieth birthday.

Japan holds the record for the longest average life expectancy, with men able to look forward to reaching 80.5 years of age and women 86.8. The United Kingdom comes in at 20th place in the global rankings, with the average lifespan taking both sexes into account coming out at 81.2 years. The United States finds its way into 31st place, at 79.3 years. Here's a little chart to show the top ten countries with the average life expectancies from both men and women:

Languishing down at the bottom of the world rankings, the average life expectancy in Sierra Leone is 49.3 years for men and 50.8 years for women, giving an overall average of 50.1 - that's a full 33.6 years shorter than the average Japanese person can expect to live.

If we get down to some finer details there are some truly staggering individual records when it comes to extreme old age. The record for the oldest authenticated age anyone has ever lived to belongs to Jeanne Louise Calment of France - she was 122 years and 164 days old when she died in her home country of France in 1997. And just to make all of us feel a little better, she put her longevity down to eating chocolate and drinking port, and only kicked a lifetime smoking habit two years before her death.

This is one area where women really do dominate the charts. The oldest authenticated age a man has lived is 116 years and 54 days, the crown held by Jiroemon Kimura from Kyoto Prefecture, Japan, but the top ten oldest individuals ever to have lived are all women. Of that top ten, four have been American and two Japenese. Here they are, charted up:

Of those, Emma Morano is still living and going strong in Italy, and may well move further up the list if she sticks to her own advice on reaching old age - remaining single, eating three raw eggs a day and drinking home-brewed brandy.

So positive statistics and some good advice from those in extreme old age. While we can't all enter the record books and blow out that many candles, the overall picture is looking rosy when it comes to reaching pensionable age and enjoying many happier, healthier years beyond.