Why Can’t We All Live to be 140?

By Clara Lewis

I have a good friend and colleague named Hui Lian who is passionate about all things traditional Chinese.  Every day after work we walk together on the grounds of our workplace. 

I look forward to this time together because not only does it provide a chance to unwind after a busy day, breathe fresh air, and debrief, but there is always the possibility that I may glean another fascinating tidbit from her fount of knowledge. Maybe I will hear a story about an ancient dynasty, or the meaning of a certain celestial phenomena, or about how a god descended to earth to teach a much-needed skill.

These days she has been telling me about what she is learning about Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Today she told me that according to what she had read (in Mandarin of course), human beings are supposed to live to be between 100 and 140 years old.  Of course I wanted to know why.

She explained that a very long time ago, ancient Chinese physicians studied the life spans of different animals to determine their life expectancy. They found that if you measured the time from birth to maturity and then multiplied that number by between 5 and 7, you would find the approximate life expectancy of that creature. 

For example, a horse takes 6 years to reach maturity. It was found that if you multiply 6 (birth to maturity) by between 5 and 7, the result would be that a well-taken care of horse should be able to live to be between 30 and 42 years old. In general, the life span of horses does average around 30+ years. The same formula applied to other animals yields similarly accurate results. 

Most Americans tend to think exercise is healthy across the board, but according to Chinese medicine doctors, stressing out your body too much will only shorten your life span.

Now let’s apply this formula to human beings. It takes a human 20 years to reach maturity — multiply this number by between 5 and 7 and voila! You get a predicted life span of between 100 and 140.

So why do we rarely see people reaching such an advanced age nowadays?

Lian thinks it’s because we are not aligning ourselves with the laws of nature and the universe. Perhaps if we took care of ourselves by following certain principles of TCM it might be a different story.  If we follow the earth’s natural rhythms, be it the hours of the day or the seasons of the year, and became more aware of such things as the effect our emotions have on our organs—we might be able to align ourselves more with this magnificent creation in which we exist and thus extend the number of years we can remain in this form on earth.

According to Lian, a god or spirit governs each organ and this spirit needs to be respected and honored. For example, each organ’s spirit has a different resting time. The liver’s resting time is between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m.  If you don’t allow it to rest properly during this specific time period, it won’t be able to do its job properly, which means it won’t be able to remove toxins from the body. Interestingly, if this particular period of resting time is lost, the liver can never regain that cleansing time. 

So, if you are using the wee hours of the morning to study, or worse, to party, this allotted time of rest and rejuvenation for the liver will be lost forever and can never be made up. It seems the toxins from that day will end up accumulating in the body, which can’t be good for you in the long term.

Apart from all the risky behaviors that everyone agrees on, like heavy drinking and smoking, many other factors that can damage our internal organs are less obvious to Westerners, ranging from thinking too much to exercising too much. Most Americans tend to think exercise is healthy across the board, but according to Chinese medicine doctors, stressing out your body too much will only shorten your life span. Apparently ancient Chinese people weren’t all couch potatoes, though. They stayed active through housework and other labor, so at least they were productive.

There’s even evidence that a preponderance of sexual activity can seriously reduce our life spans because it dissipates our life essence. That’s definitely going to be a new one for a lot of Westerners, although once you stop to think about it, it does kind of make sense. As they say: live fast, die young.

This article merely scratches the surface of all that I’m learning from Lian. I am not about to become a practitioner of TCM, nor study information in books or on-line. What I am learning from Lian’s sharing is enough for me! At the very least she gives me food for thought, and who knows, I might even apply some of these principles into my own life.

Rest assured, I will continue my walks with Hui Lian and be sure to keep you posted.