This is as good as it’s ever going to get for us, researchers say. New findings show that in terms of physical fitness, humans as a species have reached their biological limitations.
Has humanity used up all its potential?
If you’ve been thinking that there’s going to be a far-improved version of our species sometime in the distant future, you may be wrong. We’re unlikely to grow any taller, or grow any stronger, or grow any older than we presently could. While humanity has a lot of potential, even potential has a limit. And if that wasn’t discouraging enough, it’s possible that we may be entering a decline due in part to pollution and climate change. Thus, if we’re hitting the ceiling on the development of our species, it’s partially our fault.
It seemed, for a time, that humanity was improving. We were getting faster, stronger, and better in many ways. We were breaking world records left and right, and pushing our boundaries and succeeding. However, we may break fewer and fewer records in the following years.
Usain Bolt's record hasn't been beaten in almost 10 years. [Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images]
Researchers looked over a total of 160 different studies published over a period of 120 years. This review focused on lifespan, athleticism, height trends, and the state of the environment. What the study found was somewhat chilling: according to the results, lifespan, athleticism, and height increased steadily throughout the 20th century. However, all these have plateaued over the past three decades, starting from around 1980.
The review could only have been possible now, given that we’ve had decades of reliable medical records-keeping. Because of the availability and reliability of these records, it’s possible to track the improvement of the traits mentioned above.
"These traits no longer increase, despite further continuous nutritional, medical, and scientific progress," said Jean-François Toussaint, one of the researchers. "This suggests that modern societies have allowed our species to reach its limits."
We’re breaking fewer and fewer records when it comes to these traits as well. So far, no one has lived longer than Jeanne Calment, who died at the age 122 in 1997. Usain Bolt, who set sprinting records for 100 and 200 meters in 2008, is still the record holder nearly 10 years later. Researcher think that health and height may still improve, but places like Africa are already seeing a decline in height due to malnutrition.
Pollution isn't doing us any favors.
So what do pollution and climate change have to do with anything? There have been studies that have linked pollution to poor health and shorter lifespans. After all, if you’re breathing dirty air, for example, then you probably have harmful pollutants circulating in your system. Climate change has also been linked to lower life expectancy rates as well as the spread of infectious diseases. Thus, even though we’re biologically still able to improve our health, external factors like pollution and climate change will probably hold us back.
However, it doesn’t have to be all bad news. If the analysis is correct, then we have a better idea of our biological limitations. Thus, governments and agencies around the world can work to help their populations reach the best possible lifespans, athleticism, heights, and health.
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