Most tortoises live to be over 100 years in age. A mosquito fish is lucky to live just two short years, and mayflies have one of the shortest life spans, with a birth and death that can happen within 24 hours. An African forest elephant can live almost as long as a human being, with an average life span of about 70 years. A queen fire ant can live for up to seven years while worker ants might only last 180 days.
A secret all these animals can tell us about human longevity was recently discovered by James Carey, a biodemography specialist at the University of California, Davis. Davis discovered that an animals’ life span can tell us much about whether we’ll die young or manage to clink champagne glasses with other centenarians that outlive even their children.
So, there’s the obvious observation – that species within a certain group of organisms often have similar lifespans. You wouldn’t usually find a song bird that lives as long as monitor lizard, for example, but here’s what isn’t as overt: species that push the boundaries of their group’s typical life span provide insight into what can prompt the evolution of longevity in us.
Longevity is Related to the Total Energy Expended Over a Lifetime
Animals that survive harsh conditions to live many years, such as life in the deep ocean, or in the arid desert, give some indications about how we can live longer, as do their social habits, but Carey found that the longevity of many species has a lot to do with the total energy an animal exerts over its lifetime, a finding other scientists have hinted at before.
This could also provide some insight as to why the yogic tradition teaches people to breath more like elephants, instead of dogs – with a slow and even respiratory rate, as well as practice yoga asana, which is famous for reversing the heart rate, stress rate, and overall strain on the body as a whole. A big, slow elephant is known to outlast the hard-working, constantly moving, but tiny ant. It isn’t size so much as energy expenditure that is the key.
A 300-Year Old Tortoise Breathes Only Three or Four Times a Minute
If we look at the tortoise – some of the only land vertebrates that can live to be as old as 300 years-of-age, we can gain even more clues as to how this phenomenon works. Firstly, a tortoise is notoriously slow moving. They expend energy to get food, procreate, or move out of the sun only when it is absolutely necessary. A tortoise also withdraws its sensory organs, namely its hands and feet, into its shell on many occasions. This causes the tortoise to reduce the sensory stimulation that it must process.
Here’s the biggest hint as to why a slow-moving tortoise lives so long, though; It breathes only three to four times every minute. An average human being breathes at least 15 times per minute. The respiratory rates for other animals, like dogs and squirrels, is much faster.
The Vedas Held this Secret
It was taught to the Brahmins in the Vedic culture, that the faster we expend our breaths, the faster we should die. Our life force is like money in the bank. We can spend it frivolously, or save it up for a rainy day. When we practice pranayama techniques that aim to lengthen the cycle of the breath and slow the resting heart rate, we can truly extend our lifespan’s.
Though Carey’s research didn’t touch on yogic practices, he’d likely be intrigued to find out that his scientific findings for living longer were echoed in yogic texts that date to more than 5000 years ago. Yogis of this time were notorious for observing the natural world, and the animals within it, to unlock keys to health and longevity.
Look at what Paramahansa Yogandanda, the same yogi who taught the Beatles, and who wrote An Autobiography of a Yogi, said about breathing and life spans:
“The restless monkey breathes at the rate of 32 times a minute, in contrast to man’s average 18 times. The elephant, tortoise, snake and other animals noted for their longevity have a respiratory rate which is less than man’s. The tortoise for instance, who may attain the age of 300 years, breathes only 4 times per minute.”
What do elephants and ants have to teach us about how to live longer? We can reserve our energy by slowing our breath, or work ourselves ‘to death.’ It’s a simple lesson in the economy of energy.
Featured image: Credit