Number of Thoughts per Lifetime Hypothesis


Because a low resting heart rate is generally associated with good health, some have proposed the “number of beats per lifetime” hypothesis, namely that each life is allotted a certain number of heart beats. Therefore, as the logic goes, if your heart beats slowly you’ll live longer, but if your heart beats too fast you’ll die young.


While the absolute proposal of the “number of beats per lifetime” hypothesis is probably incorrect, the hypothesis reveals a truth about the human body machine: it’s susceptible to “wear and tear.” Just like a car, the simple nature of running our organ engines creates damage to the system. Overtime this damage builds until the system fails and the car (we) die.


But while heart disease is still the leading cause of death in the developed world, there is a faster growing, and, in my opinion, more concerning epidemic: neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease dementia.


Just as in the heart, the “wear and tear” truth applies to the brain. When brain cells are active, they create metabolic damage (perhaps you’ve heard the term “oxidative stress”) that, over a lifetime, leads to brain cell death and neurodegenerative diseases.


Does this mean that by slowing down overactive brain cells we can extend our healthspan or lifespans (provided a quick heart doesn’t get us first)? Well, maybe… There is certainly evidence to suggest that lifestyle practices like mindfulness, meditation, and yoga have pro-brain and anti-aging properties; and it is also generally believed that having a continuous high-intensity mental stream – constantly checking email, ruminating over your to-do list, planning what you have to do next – is unhealthy for the mind and brain.


While much of the negative effect of having an overactive mind on the brain may be due to “stress factors” (by which I mean hormonal factors like constantly high cortisol), who is to say there isn’t more depth to the story? Who is to say that having a continuous high-intensity mental stream, being Type A, or whatever you want to call it, isn’t having a detrimental effect on your brain?


In short, who is to say that the “number of thoughts per lifetime” hypothesis isn’t also a useful guideline? Now, I’m not saying don’t think. I’m simply saying be aware of how you spend those thoughts because ruminating over your to-do list seems like a waste to me.

Nicholas Norwitz

*The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of, its affiliates, or its employees.