Save the heartbeats!

Save the heartbeats!

Take a look at the chart. What is the one common characteristic among all animal species represented?

Not weight, heartrate, or longevity. The one common feature is that all among this diverse listing of species, including humans, live until their heart beats about 1 billion times and then – they die. The reason for this heart beat phenomenon is unknown. One theory is that the heart rate is a measure of general intermediary metabolism. In other words, how fast a creature “burns” food. The burning (oxidation) involves the generation of nasty oxygen radicals which damage cells, and this may well be an inevitable part of living. Or maybe, like an elastic band, there are only so many times you can stretch out the walls of the heart before something snaps.

So what can we learn from this? Is this limitation fate, something we are stuck with and can’t do anything about? Well in a sense yes, the book of Hebrews tells us “it is appointed unto men once to die”. And despite all the hype about immortality being just around the corner with advances in biology and genetics, this is simply a pipe dream.

Yet Proverbs tells us “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life”. So how do we guard our heart, in practical terms, especially when their’s an almost universal limit on its ability to function? Well, the answer is save those heartbeats! In other words, slow down your heartrate and live longer.

How to do this? Well one obvious way is to chill out. Find ways to deal with the everyday stress of life. As Jesus says, “Do not let your heart be troubled”. Yes, the occasional stressful situation is going to be there and we have to deal with that, it’s what our “fight or flight” hormones, most notably adrenalin are meant for. But constant stress is a killer. It accelerates our heart and steals those precious beats a little each day. And for anyone looking for a quick fix to weight loss, stimulants that are “metabolism boosters”, increase the heart rate much the same as our own adrenalin. This is potentially a high price to pay for the loss of a few pounds.

And what about exercise? Clearly it increases heart rate, which would be entirely the opposite of what we are striving for. But there’s an interesting twist to the exercise story, a paradox really. While our heart rate indeed goes up during exercise, two maybe even three times the normal rate, our heart rate while we are not exercising, the “resting” heart rate, goes down in a way that more than compensates for the short increase during exercise.

For example, consider a 50 year old “nonexerciser” (I’ve been told to keep away from the couch-potato term, but you know what I mean!) vs. a person who exercises vigorously a half-hour a day. Let’s assume the nonexerciser experiences a heart rate of 80 beats per minute (BPM) through the day for a total of 115,2000 beats in 24 hours. And let’s assume the exerciser experiences a heart rate 140 BPM during a half-hour of exercise and 60 beats per minute for the remaining 23.5 hour in the day for a total of 88,000 beats. That’s about 25% less beats in the day for our exerciser. Of course this does not translate directly into 25% longer life, but that is the general direction. And of course, the bigger value, which is harder to quantify, is the better quality of life, especially in the later years, for the exerciser. But more on that in another post.

So think of those heartbeats as a treasure to be guarded (by exercise and tranquility) and spent (by living) wisely. Remember – the objective is to serve the Lord, and you have to be here to do that!