Big Animals Die Younger

A recurring theme in research on aging is that of growth vs longevity. In essence, they’re opposed: more growth means shorter life, and less growth means longer life. The activation of physiological mechanisms in growth promotes aging, and deactivating them promotes longevity. Big animals die younger.

Evidence in non-human animals

Between species, larger animals tend to live longer. Elephants live longer than mice, who live longer than flies and worms. Mikhail Blagosklonny, the noted scientist who studies aging, sums it up as “Big mice die young but large animals live longer“.

As the article says, within species, larger animals die younger. Small mice live longer than big mice, because they grow less.

Why do larger animals, between species, live longer? Larger animals have fewer predators and low rates of accidental death; therefore, natural selection has worked on them to evolve longer lives, with more robust anti-aging mechanisms. In contrast, if the average mouse is dead at two years of age from predation or other accidents of life, then there’s nothing for natural selection to work on.

Calorie restriction is the most robust life-extension intervention known to science. Animals live longer when their food is restricted. The causes of this are hotly debated, but one theory is that since food promotes growth, restricting food hinders growth and extends life. Even when animals are fully grown, food activates the growth mechanism and effectively shortens life.

Evidence in humans

There’s a lot of evidence that larger humans die younger.

Obesity by definition means higher than normal body fat and thus higher body weight. The adverse health effects of obesity are well known.

Even when body fat remains the same, however, larger size appears to mean shorter life.

Among professional baseball players, larger size was strongly correlated to a lower age at death. See graph below.

Note that BMI for all the baseball players is quite similar, so age at death was not related to being overweight, but to total body weight and height. Taller players died younger.

Among different ethnic groups in California, death rates correspond to their average body mass index, in order from lowest to highest: Asian Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Hispanic, White, African-American. (Hispanics actually weight the most of these groups, evidence for the Hispanic health paradox.)

Among Olympic athletes, those who set records at younger ages died younger. “Early and extraordinary peaks in physical performance come with a longevity cost“.

Life history theory postulates a trade-off between development and maintenance. This trade-off is observed when comparing life histories of different animal species. In humans, however, it is debated if variation in longevity is explained by differences in developmental traits. Observational studies found a trade-off between early and high fecundity and longevity in women. Development encompasses more than fecundity and also concerns growth and physical performance. Here, we show a life history trade-off between early and above average physical performance and longevity in male Olympic athletes. Athletes who peaked at an earlier age showed 17-percent increased mortality rates and athletes who ranked higher showed 11-percent increased mortality rates. Male athletes who had both an early and extraordinary peak performance suffered a 4.7-year longevity cost.  This is the first time a life history trade-off between physical performance and longevity has been found in humans. This finding deepens our understanding of early developmental influences on the variation of longevity in humans.

The authors say, “It is important to note that cocaine was available since the first Olympic games and could have played a role in the association.” I’ve never heard before of Olympic athletes using cocaine, but that would certainly shorten lives. I suppose it’s completely unknown how many athletes used it.

Basketball players, who are of course much taller than average, don’t seem to live very long. Anecdotally,

Within the past year, the NBA has seen a spate of deaths among some of its notable retired big men — among them Moses Malone, Darryl Dawkins and Anthony Mason, none older than 60.

And now Larry Bird admits, he doesn’t expect to live to a ripe old age.

Another piece of evidence: women live longer than men, and women are smaller.

Kitavans, Okinawans, and Cretans

The people of Kitava, Okinawa, and Crete are famous for better health and longer lives. Their diets and lifestyles have been extensively studied and have given rise to concepts like the Mediterranean and Okinawan diets, the Blue Zones, and the importance of religion and social ties for health and longevity.

What seems to have escaped many researchers is that these people are all small.

Kitavans show no evidence of heart disease or strokes and cancer appears to be rare. Young Kitavan men average 125 lbs (57 kg), and Kitavan men over the age of 60 average 107 lbs (49 kg). Kitavan women are also small. By the way, 80% of Kitavans smoke, yet appear to be in excellent health.

Okinawa has a high number of centenarians. The average male Okinawan centenarian weighs 97 lbs (44 kg); the average female centenarian weighs 81 lbs (36.7 kg). (ibid.)

The average man in Crete has a BMI of 22.8, the lowest of any surrounding Mediterranean communities, and they have the lowest death rate. “Cretans have 1/2 the all-cause and <1/20 coronary heart disease (CHD) mortality of larger northern Europeans.” (ibid.)

If size has such a large correlation to death rate, it makes me wonder how important the diets or other lifestyle factors of these people are. Maybe we’ve been looking at the wrong things, and all along it’s been their size that’s the most important. Of course, their diets affect how large they grow too.


Centenarians are on average short. In a group of Italian centenarians, average height was 156 cm, or 5’1.4″. “Mean values for height and weight of nonagenarians and centenarians were at the lower percentile values of the distributions reported for elderly American and European subjects…” Height was calculated using a formula based on knee height, so that spinal shrinkage did not influence results.

Okinawan centenarians are of “short stature”. In another group of centenarians, women were on average 2.5 cm (1 inch) shorter than controls, but men were not shorter.

It also appears to be trivially easy to find examples of long-lived short people. For example, just the other day the NY Times ran an article about Robert Marchand, the now-celebrated 105-year-old Frenchman who keeps breaking cycling records. It turns out that M. Marchand is 5’0″ tall, and weighs 115 lbs. Salustiano Sanchez, who once held the rank of world’s oldest man, and who died at age 112, was nicknamed “Shorty”.


So, there seems to be good evidence, both human and animal, that larger and/or taller humans and animals have shorter lives. Noted aging researcher Luigi Fontana has calculated that “risks of developing type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and several types of cancer” are lowest at a BMI of 21 to 22, and rise from there.

Why is there an inverse relation between growth and longevity?

One answer centers on mTOR, the cellular growth controller. When mTOR is activated after maturity, physiological reactions occur that promote aging. This is the “quasi-programmed” theory of aging. mTOR is necessary for growth and development, but continues in a mindless loop afterwards, accelerating aging.

Interventions that inhibit constitutive activation of mTOR are either good for health or extend lifespan:

Interventions and conditions that promote mTOR constitutive activation are detrimental to longevity:

  • obesity
  • growth hormone supplementation. Acromegaly, or excess growth hormone, results in a 2 to 3-fold higher death rate.
  • anabolic steroids
  • insulin resistance.

However, an attribute like height is under strong genetic control, so it’s safe to say that genes have a lot to do with the growth vs longevity effect.

On the other hand, heights have increased over the past two centuries. Italian conscripts increased in height by about 5 inches from 1854 to 1963, and current rates of height increase are from 10 to 30 mm a decade. That increase must be environmental, and could be due to better nutrition and fewer childhood diseases.

What to do about it

You can’t control your height, so what can you do about this association?

  1. Stay lean with a good, muscular body composition and low body fat.
  2. Use some of the interventions listed above, such as resveratrol, intermittent fasting, and dumping iron.

That’s about it. Having good body composition will ensure that you don’t have insulin resistance. Essentially, all of these things go together: insulin sensitivity, normal rhythms of autophagy, and good body composition. mTOR inhibits autophagy, the cellular self-cleansing process which is so critical to aging.

Beyond that, anti-aging treatments that inhibit mTOR are underway. You can already get metformin if you find the right doctor, although OTC berberine might be as good. Rapamycin is a promising anti-aging drug that’s being extensively studied, although it has its downsides. It seems possible that pulse dosing of rapamycin, perhaps once weekly, could have anti-aging effects without many of the downsides. Mikhail Blagosklonny believes that “rapamycin will become the cornerstone of anti-aging therapy in our life time”.

PS: Check out my books, Dumping Iron, Muscle Up, and Stop the Clock.

PPS: Check out my Supplements Buying Guide for Men.


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Big Animals Die Younger says February 12, 2017

[…] post Big Animals Die Younger appeared first on Rogue Health and […]

Transhuman Tees says February 13, 2017

Gave me a fright for a minute there! 😉 I’m 6′ 2″.

I just checked my BMI and I’m sitting around 20 at the minute. Could probably do with adding some more muscle.

The reason I stopped by was to ask if you have heard of pterostilbene?

Here are a couple of links: (I first read about it here)

It sounds very promising, and you can also get it in a combination with resveratrol.

    P. D. Mangan says February 13, 2017

    Hi TT, yes I’ve heard of it. It may indeed be better than resveratrol. But, the thing I keep wondering about substances like pterostilbene or liposomal curcumin (which is also much better absorbed) is, maybe there not supposed to be absorbed as well? There’s some evidence that some (at least) of the effect of resveratrol, as well as metformin and berberine, are due to effects on the gut microbiome. Also, pterostilbene has much less research on it than resveratrol.

    I’m 5’10”, BMI 23, so I’m not on the curve to become a centenarian, at least not naturally. Maybe long life has been granted to short people to compensate for difficulties.

      Transhuman Tees says February 13, 2017

      Thank you P.D. I hadn’t even considered that.

      I keep seeing absorption/bioavailability mentioned only as a benefit. Almost as if it should be the main prerequisite to taking something.

      “Is it bioavailable?”


      “Then why take it? This is much better, it get absorbed much more!”

peter connor says February 13, 2017

I’m 6’1″ and 190, pretty strong and very dense bones, so I’m doomed! Great article though…..

Paloma says February 13, 2017

Long life? Well, I’d rather have a shorter but completely functional life. However, both things are possible. My great parents lived thin and functional till their dead (one of my great fathers was 5’11”, quite tall for that time and reached 98 years old). On the other hand, my grand parents ate and drank too much and exercised too little and died young, fat and in a bad shape.
I am thin 127 lbs and tall 5’7”, and plan to keep like that for a long time. Last week a friend of mine told me to stop weightlifting (I do compound and functional movements, as well as Pilates and CrossFit, not machines), as she thought my arms looked too strong for a lady. I am really enjoying being strong and fit for the first time in my life, so I am not quitting. 🙂
Thanks PD for keeping the good work!

Peter says February 13, 2017

The point is: when do you measure? The many nonagenarians in my surroundings have become a lot shorter since they were in their sixties. They will happily shrink on until they are centenarians or older, I imagine. I live in the Netherlands where many people are longlived as well as (starting out) tall.

Allan Folz says February 16, 2017

Was waiting for you to name drop George Burns. Or maybe Sammy Davis Jr.

Jack LaLanne, notorious scrawny kid before becoming exercise guru, was 5’6″. I wonder what the life ins companies know but aren’t sayin’.

We ought to coin a name for it… Hard Gainer’s Revenge.

    P. D. Mangan says February 16, 2017

    Hard Gainer’s Revenge – good one. Low IGF-1 leading to small stature, hard gains, and long life.

Drifter says February 16, 2017

Since I first heard Ron Rosedale talking about mTor , I have been trying to validate the anti-mTor view, and from what I can tell, the issue (as with so many other things, like insulin) is not occasional up-regulation of mTor, but chronic upregulation of mTor. .Hopefully Ron will address that in his upcoming book. Suppversity had some good discussion of this if I recall correctly, Additionally, cancer cells ( according to Dom D’agostino) are able to keep their mTor upregulated independent of diet etc. so once a cancer gets going, a low mTor diet may not be of much benefit for cancer control. Additionally, strength is apparently a very strong predictor of longevity, and while strength is about the nervous system as much as muscle IMO, it seems that minimizing mTor all the time may not be the answer either. So…I would be interested to know if anyone has good information to confirm or deny that avoiding chronic up-regulation (such as via keeping to an 8 hour feeding window) creates the longevity benefits of inhibiting mTor altogether

    P. D. Mangan says February 17, 2017

    Drifter: Yes that’s mu understanding. Constitutive or chronic mTOR activation, not pulse activation, as in insulin. “Strength is apparently a strong predictor of longevity.” That’s what my book Muscle Up explores.

Joshua says February 21, 2017

This might be one of the more worrisome things I’ve read in a while. From that study on longevity and body weight, there’s this: “LBM is subject to increased free radical damage, increased cancer risk and requires
more maintenance (Albanes, 1987; Fossel, 1996; Samaras, 1996)”.
Yikes! Does that mean building muscle could end up being detrimental to longevity? Maybe we should try to build strength without hypertrophy?
I hope not, cause I like looking good at the beach. But I think it’s something we should consider.

On the other hand, that same paragraph notes that lean mass is greater in the obese. Possibly that’s a confounding factor and the lean mass is not detrimental in and of itself. I’d like to think that’s true.
(Maybe in my favor, my BMI is only 21, despite my efforts to bulk up….so maybe I’m in about the right place. Hard gainer’s revenge, indeed!)

    P. D. Mangan says February 21, 2017

    Yes, I don’t like to think building muscle is unhealthy, and all things considered, I don’t think it is. But using anabolic steroids or growth hormone doesn’t seem to have much going for it, longevity-wise.

Is Alcohol an Anti-Aging Drug? - Rogue Health and Fitness says March 7, 2017

[…] Lots of theories have been floated as to why alcohol might lower death rates, especially from heart disease. But the following one really grabbed my attention. First, we need to look at one of the most prominent ideas in aging research: growth vs longevity. […]

Duane says October 4, 2017

Solid article. How strong is the association between height and longevity in people? Statistics for what they are worth?. What about the other blue zones?

    P. D. Mangan says October 4, 2017

    Duane, just about all I know was put into the article. Some of the other Blue Zones include Icaria, Greece; Nicoya, Nicaragua; and Sardinian highlands; and one can speculate that all of those people would be smaller than average. The Adventists of Loma Linda would probably be an exception. BTW, another thing the Blue Zones have in common is sunny weather.

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