Why Do We Age?
In ancient Eastern traditions, it was thought that every living being had a set number of breaths before it expired.(1) A tortoise only breathes about 4 times per minute, so their lifespan can reach several hundred years. Man, by comparison, breathes about 18 times per minute on average, and our lifespan is about 80 years. Big things that run slow seem to live longer, and small things that are zooming around burn their light out in the blink of an eye on the timeline of existence. There may be some truth to these early observations when we examine the impact of metabolism, and certainly when you breathe faster it is associated with stress of some kind.
Even exercise is stress, and over the course of your life too much of it will actually kill you sooner.
So, if you want to age gracefully a simple principle to go by is just don’t waste your breath. If we all have an allotted number of breaths, that means you’ll reach the end sooner than you need to by stressing out, not breathing deeply, doing too much or talking foolishly. I know I’m guilty as charged here, too, and it is a constant practice to discern what is worth my time and what isn’t.
But life is also full of quirks and exceptions to every rule. There are people who live considerably more than others, often despite their poor lifestyle or management of stress. These rarities are not the norm by any means, but they do call into question what we know about aging as some universal pattern. Having that lucky draw of certain “good genes” seems to be (in these cases) much more important than anything you eat or how many times you breathe. Even the data from the French Paradox and the Roseto effect, two famous studies on longevity, suggest that there are other components to aging besides diet and lifestyle — like your friendships and the quality of your community, support and emotional stress.