Home Health Expert details how your senses can affect your lifespan – From chirping...

Expert details how your senses can affect your lifespan – From chirping birds to trauma

The length of our lifespan may be influenced by sensory experiences, in particular those involving mortality, according to one neurobiologist.

Not just emotionally or philosophically, but sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch can all have an unexpected effect on the human life span.

A specialist has revealed that everything from waking up to bird songs to taking a rollercoaster ride or even witnessing death, our sensory and perceptive encounters can physically alter our bodies and impact our longevity.

Christi Gendron, a neurobiologist, has examined this phenomenon within the nervous system of fruit flies, creatures with whom humans share between 60% and 75% of their genetic makeup.

As part of the Tedx series, she presented her groundbreaking findings which suggest that common everyday perceptions could have an unanticipated influence on our mortality.

Her research showed that “prolonged sensory events can impact the lifespan of an animal”.

Gendron illustrates this with an example: “Let’s say that you wake up one morning and are trying to decide whether to go to an amusement park. One of the very first things you might do is to step outside and check the weather. When you do, you see that the sky is blue, that the sun is out. You hear that the birds are chirping. You feel how warm it is on your skin.”

“Based on all of this information, you decide it is a perfect day for going to the park. You have used your senses to impact your decision…Let’s say you’ve arrived at that amusement park, and one of the very first things that you see is a roller coaster. You see the speed with which it moves. You see the twists and turns it takes. You see the terrified look on the riders’ faces. You hear their screams.”

“Right here, right now, this sensory event may be causing you to feel anxious or even excited, feelings that are associated with butterflies in your stomach, a racing heartbeat, even sweating palms. Your senses have caused your body to change. This is an example of how a very short sensory perceptive event can impact you.”

Initially, this was to research and develop therapies for people who see death and stressful situations every day such as soldiers and first responders. Christi’s research looked at how prolonged exposure to sensory events can impact physical health and longevity, particularly death, clarifying that despite common misconceptions “a fly can actually recognise another dead fly”.

She explained her sensory experiment: “If I take a vial of flies and I put dead in there, they send out a signal to other flies to stay away. We can measure this. You know those flies in the vial with the dead? They lose weight and they die sooner.”

Dismissing the notion that this could’ve been down to infections or illness spreading from the dead bodies, her team repeated the experiment in various environments including sterilised, infection-free conditions. The only environment that brought different results was when the flies were left in darkness.

Christie explained, “This indicates that it is the sight of the dead that is causing all those biological changes, which impacts their lifespan.”

She went on to say, “There are many different environmental cues that impact the lifespan of animals. These include the temperature that the animal is kept in. These include the smell of food, the wavelength of light they are exposed to, even the perception of pain.

“In order for us to develop therapies that promote healthy aging, we must understand the basic biology of all of these cues, because after all, we don’t live in a world where we receive one cue at a time.”

Though she acknowledged there’s vastly more research still to be done in this area, especially concerning comprehending the physical changes sensory experiences incite, so far she has noted that serotonin and insulin play a part. While she couldn’t suggest which sensory experiences would facilitate longer lives, she looks forward to “pushing hard towards this type of understanding” in her work.


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