Live Fast, Die, Young – Slow Your Life Down with Tai Chi


How Many Heartbeats Do You Have In A Lifetime?

You may have heard of the theory that you and I have an allotted number of heartbeats in our lifetime. If this is the case, you may be wondering: Does exercise, which elevates your heart rate, use up your lifetime supply of heartbeats leading to an early death?

More importantly: Do you believe that every human has a finite number of heartbeats?

This is an age-old question. Ancient Taoists, and others up until the last century, have explored and searched for the answer to this question. In their search, they looked to nature. Specifically, they observed animals and they came up with this theory that animals with a faster heart rate have shorter lifespans.  

Physiologists in the last century later built on this work and observed that larger animals outlived smaller ones because they had a slower metabolism. Their theory is known as “The Rate-of-Living Theory.”

Ancient Taoists have explained that aging occurs due to the exhaustion of something finite, such as heartbeats or breaths. They have found this evidence in the animal kingdom.  They observed how animals lived and recorded their time on the earth until death.

I did a little of my own digging, and I gathered a small pool of information on some animals and their average heart rates. I even did a little math.

What animals have the shortest lifespans?

So let’s look at some smaller animals like the hummingbird. The hummingbird has a heart rate of about 1,000 beats per minute, and they rarely live for more than a few years. That’s about 2 billion beats for the hummingbird.

Chickens have a heart rate of 275 beats per minute. They live for about 15 years. That gives a chicken about 2 billion beats in its lifespan.

Let’s look at the running hamster. The running hamster has a rapid-fire pulse of about 450 beats per minute. They live only about 3 years. That gives the hamster just about a billion beats in its lifespan.  Poor hamster…

Let’s look at mice. They have about 500 to 600 beats per minute, and they live less than about 2 years.  That’s about half a billion beats.  I wouldn’t want to be a mouse.

Let’s take a look at your cat. The cat has 220 beats per minute. Cats usually live as long as 16 years. That gives the cat about 2 billion beats in its lifetime.

Now let’s look at the theory that smaller animals have shorter lifespans than larger ones. To do this, I looked at a small pool of larger animals. 

Elephants have slow pulses.  They have a heart rate of about 30 beats per minute, and they routinely survive to the ripe old age of 70. That gives elephants about a billion beats in a lifetime.

A whale has around 20 beats per minute and only lives slightly longer than us humans. That gives a whale about a billion beats as well.

A giant tortoise moves very slowly and has about 6 beats per minute. The tortoise has a life expectancy of around 75-100 years.  Some tortoises may live to 200 years.  That’s less than a billion beats per lifetime.

Now, humans have an average heart rate of around 60 to 70 beats per minute. We live an average of 70 years, modestly speaking. That gives us 2 billion beats in a lifetime.

Do you see a pattern emerging where the slower heart rate produces a longer lifespan?  And what about 2 billion beats? Is there a fixed number of heartbeats in your lifespan? Well, based on this small pool of information, the answer so far seems to be 2 billion beats (give or take several hundred million beats). Is there any substance to this theory?

Actually, scientific studies have debunked this theory.  It’s because modern medicine has increased the human lifespan by 30 years in the last century alone. While this is the case, there is still a remarkable consistency in the number of total heartbeats animals have in their lifetimes, including humans. So it’s easy to ask the question: Can you live longer by simply slowing your heart rate?

Keep An Eye On Your Resting Heart Rate

If you look at athletes, they have a resting heart rate of 60 beats per minute. If exercise could use up your supply of heartbeats but gives you a slower resting heart rate, then the answer to my first question at the beginning of this blog is a resounding no. Researchers have found that when you do cardio exercise regularly, your resting heart rate actually decreases, and therefore, you’re able to live longer. Athletes could theoretically increase their lifespan by a decade. 

But, there’s more to the story…

Some research has shown that an increased heart rate may break some of the elastic fibers within the arterial wall, causing your arteries to become stiff. A high heart rate doesn’t allow enough time for your arteries to relax between beats. The faster your heart beats, the stiffer your arteries become. 

So there are question marks. How much regular exercise should I be doing? How much should I push myself? How much is too much?  While questions remain, and while you may argue and disagree with your friends, the theory is out there, and there is some proof. There seems to be a subtle relationship between an increased heart rate and a decreased time on earth.

Modern science tells us your resting heart rate should be about one beat per second or 60 beats per minute. Not sure about how slow your heart is beating?  Thankfully, there is Tai Chi to bring down your resting pulse.

Let’s do a quick flow and follow the beginning sequence of Tai Chi. You will feel more relaxed.

1. Relax, then energize up. Exhale, and relax back down.

2. Energize the fingers and relax back down. Exhale all the way.

3. Turn, energize, and ward off left.

4. Then, exhale, relax back down and energize ward off right.

5. Turn to the right, exhale, shift the weight and energize to roll back.

6. Exhale, then energize and press your hands together. 

7. Relax back down, and exhale all the way.

Do this a few times as you feel the energy flow. Feel a release happening in your heart and allow your heart to open. Release and let it flow.  Let it come out of your body and allow the energy to pass through.

As you do this, your heart feels relief and you feel inner peace.

For optimal heart health, there are a few things doctors tell you already.

1. Don’t smoke.

2. Control your weight, cholesterol, and blood pressure.

3. Exercise to have a strong heart.

I want to add a fourth point: Do Tai Chi.  Because the deep breathing produced by Tai Chi helps you to have a healthy heart. By using the mind to direct the movement of your limbs, and by regulating your breathing, Chi is produced. Chi helps blood to circulate, which reduces the heart’s workload.

When your heart is at ease, your body is healthy.

What if Tai Chi can be done in a safe manner and done as a form of aerobic exercise? Will it strengthen your heart?

It doesn’t seem there is any aerobic benefit to my slow movements right now, but stay tuned and follow me on YOUTUBE, as we continue to explore the many different forms of Tai Chi, the speeds at which you can do Tai Chi, and the different kinds of frames your body can take while doing Tai Chi exercise. You may find out that Tai Chi can make you work up a sweat.

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