Is it possible to reverse ageing?

As a nation, we are obsessed with ageing.  This week on Ageing Unlocked, we caught up with our resident academic Professor Malcolm Johnson to ask the question on everyone’s mind – can we reverse ageing? We also discuss life expectancy and the problems with ageing today.

Is it possible to reverse ageing?

Some people think that we will be able to in the future. People are living much longer – the expectation of life in the developing world has been increasing for 3 months per year for the last 150 years.

How can we reverse ageing?

So far as we know, no human being has lived to be older than 120. Now the average expectation is mid-70s. The number of centenarians is greater than ever in human history, so in a sense we are delaying ageing – but we are not reversing it. What we can do however is make later life more interesting and fulfilling, so that people live more in the longer lives that they now enjoy. That is something that society needs to do a lot more to address.

What are the problems with ageing today?

We are living with perceptions of retirement that are utterly out of date. When people get to a certain age, they are given their pension and the presumption is then that they are now ‘old’. Yet, today, a lot of people will retire from their occupation, take a pension, and will live for another 20-30 years.

So, we have got a lot of rethinking to do about the phase we call ‘retirement’.


We can put life back into those extra years and make it more engaging, more socially meaningful more psychologically more pleasurable that is not reversing ageing, but it is really just bringing back the life that is still there and giving it purpose.

Professor Malcolm Johnson, a professor of Health and Social Policy at the University of Bath since 1995, has written twelve books, including ‘Spiritual Dimensions of Ageing’, and over 160 chapters, articles and monographs.

The Professor has recently attracted the public’s attention as lead experimenter on Channel 4’s ‘Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds’, where pre-school children shared their classroom with older people in a Bristol retirement home.

The professor is now supporting Guild Living to create an academic-led approach to support better ageing in later life.