Researchers developed new life expectancy calculator — you’ll die Tuesday, jk just look it up

Would knowing the date of your death influence your actions? It did for Tiberius Caesar. Convinced by the court astrologer Thrasyllus that he had many years of life ahead of him, the paranoid old emperor chose to postpone the murder of his heir Caligula.

But by believing Thrasyllus’s prediction and letting his guard down, Tiberius inadvertently gave Caligula enough time to poison him first. The rest, as they say, is history – which Thrasyllus had altered by deliberately overestimating his employer’s life expectancy.

While many of us are unlikely to find ourselves in Caesar’s position, knowing how many years we have left may influence many aspects of our life – including when to retire, whether to take a long-awaited vacation, and even whether to opt for certain medical treatments.

My Longevity, a newly developed app from researchers at the University of East Anglia, now allows each of us to be our own life expectancy astrologer. But how much trust should we place in these predictions?

Life expectancy vs lifespan

Simply put, life expectancy is how long, on average, members of any given population can expect to life. This is different from lifespan, which is the maximum length of time any member of the species can survive.

Although lifespan has changed very little – if at all – global life expectancy has soared by more than 40 years since the beginning of the 20th century. This was achieved through a combination of scientific discoveries and public health measures that drove down infant mortality. In the UK, life expectancy at birth is now over 80 years.

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Life expectancy depends a lot on where you grow up or live. So the more a disparate population can be broken down into sub-populations who have traits in common – but which are still large enough to be statistically significant – the more accurate predictions become. Doing this might involve subdividing the population by sex (on average females live longer than males) or smoking status (for obvious reasons), or both.

The team of researchers used a sophisticated version of this approach when developing their app, informed by its previous research. This allows its app to factor in the life expectancy effects of controlled and uncontrolled high blood pressure, the presence of related illnesses such as cardiovascular disease or rheumatoid arthritis, ongoing treatment with statins, and serious risk factors, such as high cholesterol.

Doctor measuring a man's blood pressure.