On the complex relationship between energy expenditure and longevity: Reconciling the contradictory empirical results with a simple theoretical model

Mech Ageing Dev. 2015 Jul;149:50-64. doi: 10.1016/j.mad.2015.06.003. Epub 2015 Jun 15.


The relationship between energy expenditure and longevity has been a central theme in aging studies. Empirical studies have yielded controversial results, which cannot be reconciled by existing theories. In this paper, we present a simple theoretical model based on first principles of energy conservation and allometric scaling laws. The model takes into considerations the energy tradeoffs between life history traits and the efficiency of the energy utilization, and offers quantitative and qualitative explanations for a set of seemingly contradictory empirical results. We show that oxidative metabolism can affect cellular damage and longevity in different ways in animals with different life histories and under different experimental conditions. Qualitative data and the linearity between energy expenditure, cellular damage, and lifespan assumed in previous studies are not sufficient to understand the complexity of the relationships. Our model provides a theoretical framework for quantitative analyses and predictions. The model is supported by a variety of empirical studies, including studies on the cellular damage profile during ontogeny; the intra- and inter-specific correlations between body mass, metabolic rate, and lifespan; and the effects on lifespan of (1) diet restriction and genetic modification of growth hormone, (2) the cold and exercise stresses, and (3) manipulations of antioxidant.

Keywords: Energy expenditure; Lifespan; Oxidative damage; Scaling laws; Tradeoffs.

MeSH terms

  • Aging
  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / metabolism
  • Caloric Restriction
  • Diet*
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Female
  • Growth Hormone / metabolism
  • Lipid Peroxidation
  • Longevity*
  • Male
  • Metabolism
  • Mice
  • Models, Biological
  • Oxidative Stress*
  • Oxygen / chemistry
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Physical Conditioning, Animal
  • Rats
  • Superoxides / chemistry
  • Time Factors


  • Antioxidants
  • Superoxides
  • Growth Hormone
  • Oxygen