The heartbeat hypothesis postulates that every living creature has a limited number of heartbeats or breaths. The hypothesis is based on two observations. First, that small mammals (such as a mouse) have rapid resting heart rate compared to a larger mammal (such as an elephant), and that their respective lifespans are inversely proportional to those rates. Second, is that athletically fit people tend to have a lower resting heart rate and tend to live longer than unhealthy people.
In 1926 Raymond Pearl proposed that longevity varies inversely with basal metabolic rate (the "rate of living theory"). Support for this comes from the fact that mammals with larger body size have longer maximum life spans and the fact that the longevity of fruit flies varies inversely with ambient temperature. Additionally, the life span of houseflies can be extended by preventing physical activity.
Support for this theory has been bolstered by several studies linking a lower basal metabolic rate (evident with a lowered heartbeat) to increased life expectancy.  This is thought to be the key to why animals like the Giant Tortoise can live over 150 years.  Studies in humans with 100+ year life spans have shown a link to decreased thyroid activity (lowered metabolic rate) to their longevity.
However, the ratio of resting metabolic rate to total daily energy expenditure can vary between 1.6 to 8.0 between species of mammals. Animals also vary in the degree of coupling between oxidative phosphorylation and ATP production, the amount of saturated fat in mitochondrial membranes, the amount of DNA repair, and many other factors that affect maximum life span.
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- Miquel J, Lundgren PR, Bensch KG, Atlan H (1976). "The effects of temperature on the aging process have been investigated in approximately 3500 imagoes of male Drosophila melanogaster". Mechanisms of Aging and Development 5 (5): 347–370. doi:10.1016/0047-6374(76)90034-8. PMID 823384.
- Ragland SS, Sohal RS (1975). "Ambient temperature, physical activity and aging in the housefly, Musca domestica". Experimental Gerontology 10 (5): 279–289. doi:10.1016/0531-5565(75)90005-4. PMID 1204688.
- "Life and Death: Metabolic Rate, Membrane Composition, and Life Span of Animals | Physiological Reviews". Physrev.physiology.org. 2007-10-01. Retrieved 2014-05-24.
- Published on July 25, 2009 (2009-07-25). "What Determines Longevity: Metabolic Rate or Stability? - S. Jay Olshansky". Discovery Medicine. Retrieved 2014-05-24.
- Hugo Aguilaniu1, Jenni Durieux1, and Andrew Dillin2 (2014-05-15). "Metabolism, ubiquinone synthesis, and longevity". Genesdev.cshlp.org. Retrieved 2014-05-24.
- "The Longevity Secret for Tortoises Is Held In Their Low Metabolism Rate". Immortalhumans.com. 2010-07-12. Retrieved 2014-05-24.
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- Speakman JR, Selman C, McLaren JS, Harper EJ (2002). "Living fast, dying when? The link between aging and energetics". The Journal of Nutrition 132 (6, Supplement 2): 1583S–1597S. PMID 12042467.