#1 – Conserve Your Heartbeats

1 April 2007

One of the interesting facts about land mammals is that their life expectancy is the same – if you measure it in terms of heartbeats. All land mammals will live for about 1 billion heartbeats. A shrew has a heart rate of 600 bpm (beats per minute) and a life expectancy of just three years. An elephant with their 30 bpm heart rate can expect to live over 60 years. The hearts of each animal will beat 1 billion times in their expected lifetime.

Humans, of course, are the exception – we can last for about 3 billion heartbeats. I’m not sure why – maybe medical technology, nutrition, who knows. Marine mammals don’t follow the pattern either, but let’s stick with ourselves and our 3 billion heartbeats. There are 525,600 minutes in a year, and the average human has a resting heart rate of 72 bpm, so divide that into 3 billion and you get a life expectancy of 79.3 years.

I was talking about this topic with a co-worker when he asked me “So how many days of your life did you burn up by running that ultramarathon?” Holy cow. My heart rate was probably around 150 bpm for the 12 hours it took me to run 50 miles, so in half a day I used up just over a day’s worth of heartbeats! More than that, I ran for 180 hours total in 2006 – that’s 7.5 days of extra heartbeats spent on running! Is it really worth it?

Before I started running three years ago, my resting heart rate happened to be the average 72 bpm. Let’s assume that I lived my first 28 years at that heart rate, which means I used up 1.06 billion of my life’s heartbeats in that span. Now let’s assume that I keep running (or cycling or otherwise keeping in good shape) for the rest of my life. My current resting heart rate is about 56 bpm, so if I keep that up for my remaining 1.94 billion heart beats, I would live another 69 years… to the age of 94!

By getting into (and staying in) good shape, I increased my life expectancy by 15 years! Each year I spend as a runner costs me one week of heartbeats, but the improved fitness adds 13 weeks to my life expectancy for a net of +12 weeks. Another way to look at it: Every month of regular running adds one week to my life! Diving deeper yet… assuming I run 3.5 times per week, that means that each run adds 12 hours to my life. How’s that for a good investment?

Yes, it’s worth it. Assuming, of course, that my clock will tick 3 billion times…


  1. […] 28 November 2007 Back in April the inaugural article on this blog was about heartbeats and life expectancy and it has been one of the most popular posts ever since. The concept that we may have a finite […]

  2. Excellent post! You’ve given me great reason to get back to working out. It was fun to go for a physical and the doctor/nurse listen to my heart and say ‘You’re a runner’. Not every ‘average’ person has a resting heart rate of 50 something. The heart is a muscle and it’s a good feeling to exercise it consistently and to keep it strong. Many benefits as you know. ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Yeah, it’s fun when the doctors make the “you must be a runner” comment. The heart is just one part of the body that needs exercise, but running does work many other parts.

  4. […] marks the anniversary of this blog!ย  On April 1, 2007 I wrote the inaugural article about heartbeats and life expectancy, which currently holds the title of the most popular post on Why Run.ย  Luckily it hasn’t […]

  5. What a fantastic article. Hopefully that means that now I’ve started running again it will give me those extra years back that I lost through smoking! I have stopped smoking now for the last year….

  6. Great job! Not only do we get extra years, but more quality in those years, too.

  7. I’ve been running for 2-3 years + reading things like this gives me insane motivation to stick with it and enjoy my health one run at a time. Your point about the 1 b heartbeats for mammals, by the way, is amazing. How many miles do you run each week, out of curiosity?

  8. I was explaining this theory to my son, and how fitness in general will lower your resting heart rate, thus extending your life. Thanks for doing the math for me ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. I think you forget one important think.
    If you run every day for 30 minutes it of course increase your daily heart rate (at the beginning of the training).
    But this regular running program will make your heart more musculature therefore for normal life activities your heart will not need such effort as someone’s lazy, not trained. So at the end your final daily heart rate could decrease or at least stay the same…
    Some people say you can prolong your life time by doing some sport. This prolonged time is the same as you spend on sporting ๐Ÿ™‚ But is it pleasure? It’s up to you…

  10. I’m sorry I didn’t finish the reading

  11. I was a bit worried about this too. I want to start jogging with hopes of eventually getting back to running again. After years of physical inactivity I know it’s going to be tough at the beginning but just remembering how good in running and other sports I used to be in my 20’s, and how in shape I used to be back then, and the energy that I got out of exercising 4-5 times a week… I definitely want to feel and look like that again before old age really settles in. Now with the worry out of the picture I’m definitely out to the gym to get it started ASAP.

    Lower back pain? Cervical pain? Left knee pain? WHAT PAIN?? Nothing a good workout won’t fix! ๐Ÿ˜€

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    lot of work, there is an online tool that creates unique, google friendly articles
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