Watch“Flies may not be deep thinkers, but they can make good decisions very quickly”
Professor Graeme Ruxton, University of St Andrews Scotland.

A study called the ‘critical flicker fusion frequency’ has found that the smaller the animal and the faster its metabolic rate, the slower time passes by.

So other than becoming a fly on the wall, how can we humans put the brakes on time passing?


Can you remember the summer school holidays that seemed to go on forever and after a few weeks you started to look forward to going back to school? Or wishing your 13th birthday would come quickly so you can say you’re a teenager. Then wishing you could leave school and go to college/uni/work.

No matter what was going on in your life, there was always something better ahead of you that you wanted to reach, and quickly!

But suddenly you’re 20 then 30 and before you know it, 40; that magic age when you desperately want the life clock to slow down because you realise to your horror that if the next 40 years go as quickly … doesn’t bear thinking of does it?

So why does time seem to speed up as we age and is there anything we can do about it?


Albert Einstein ‘created’ the theory of relativity in 1905 and established time as being a relative concept dependant on how high you are above sea level.

More recently, to support Einstein’s theory the US National Institute of Standards and Technology, Colorado discovered when they positioned one atomic clock higher than another that time really did speed up on the higher clock.


We measure time by memorable events: the more milestones you reach, the more you have to look back on and thus the years seem to stretch further.

Our childhood and adolescence is full of ‘firsts’: first day at school, first time you ride a bike, pass a driving test, first kiss, etc. But when you reach adulthood these premiers tend to reduce in frequency as the mundane and everyday life takes over.

Time is also relative to your age; thus a year for a 5 year old is 20% of their life, whereas it is just 2% for a 50 year old.

We have no specific sensory system relating to perception of time, but there is a ‘distribution’ of sensors within the brain that help to ‘govern’ our concept of time passing and as we age, these sensors may begin to dull as we engage in less new exciting or life changing events.

Children exercise more parts of their brain with new experiences, whereas adults have existing memories of events from months or even years ago, thus the brain ignores the event due to ‘neural adaption’.

Studies have also shown that as we age we underestimate how quickly time passes. A group aged 19-24 was asked to guess when three minutes had passed. The average time that elapsed was 3 minutes 3 seconds. However for a group aged 60-80 the average was 3 minutes 40 seconds.

And have you ever wondered why your life ‘flashes before your eyes’ when you face danger and time seems to slow down? According to research by David Eagleman, neuroscientist at Baylor College of Medicine in the USA, you are experiencing the ‘oddball effect’ when our “memories are more densely packed during a frightening situation, but the event feels like it’s taking longer”.


Why is it that the day can seem never ending for the elderly and yet the months fly by? It seems likely that is due to the lack of stimulus, thus the day seems to be long but in retrospect very short.

And have you ever noticed how a journey to a new destination seems to go on for ever but the familiar return journey feels shorter?


Time doesn’t speed up as we age; it is what we do with that time that influences our perception of time flying past.

So if you want your Christmas Day to feel like it is lasting a bit longer than usual, change your routine, do something different and new; mark another milestone that you will remember.

Then tomorrow think of something else new to enjoy and keep on doing that; your life may not last any longer but it will at least feel like it has!

Time Flies When You’re Having Fun… And When You’re Not

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