Happy New Hexachron, or hope you have the time of your life
“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times ...” No, wait! That’s already taken. How about, “To everything there is a season ...” What? That’s already been used, too? Then how about, “The time of your life”? I know it’s a clich&233;, but I really mean the “time” of your life.
Our lifetimes take place at certain rhythms that are sometimes obscured and forgotten in our modern world that is driven by technology. It might be interesting to know how things happen through biological time. One of the fastest things that happens in your body is the transmission of information along your neurons. The rate is variable depending on a lot of factors.
In peripheral nerves from your big toe to your spinal cord information can transfer as fast as 225 mph, or 330 feet per second. That’s about the fastest thing that happens in your body. Some muscles work quickly and some work slowly. There are muscles in your body that can take several minutes to contract.
Then, there are your eyelid muscles. They can contract in about 1/300th of a second. That is what makes a wink so deadly. A wink can happen so fast that you aren’t really sure if the winker actually winked at the winkee, or not. Then what is the winkee to do? But maybe winking is old-fashioned. Does anyone wink anymore? Obviously not at me.
Emptying your stomach can take anywhere from 15 minutes, if all you put in it was water, to up to six hours, if you ate a big, greasy pepperoni pizza. Yes, the pepperoni can still be there at 2 a.m. The time it takes, on average, for food to move entirely through your digestive track, from start to, shall we say, finish, is about 12 hours. If you hurry things along much faster than that, there isn’t time for your body to remove enough water from the food. Then you will have what are politely called loose stools.
Did you know that if you get less than eight hours of sleep, all your immune cells are measurably less effective? Certain cells that attack and engulf foreign invaders lose efficiency with the loss of only one hour of sleep. Other cells secrete antibodies when you get sick. Even if you are healthy and well rested, it can take up to two or three weeks to produce enough antibodies to be effective. That’s why they say that if you eat right and get plenty of rest, you can get well in two weeks. But if you don’t, it’s going to take 14 days.
The truly magic number in human, biological time is six weeks. That probably doesn’t sound familiar to you, but consider these facts. Wound-healing generally takes about six weeks. Obviously, the timing depends on the wound, but even minor surgery requires about six weeks to repair the damaged capillary bed. And guess how long it generally takes to remove all the nicotine from the body after you quit smoking? About six weeks. If you start a new training regimen, it will take about six weeks to grow new muscle. If you start learning a new skill, like playing a new song on a musical instrument, it will take about six weeks to master. It even takes about six weeks to metabolize five pounds of fat.
Six weeks is such a universal estimate of biological function in humans that I have decided to name this time frame a new unit of time called a “hexachron.” Though we coordinate our lives around a 24-hour clock, a seven-day week, a 30-day month and a 52-week year, biological time is something else entirely. The biological “time” cycle is most often about six weeks, a hexachron.
And you only have a little less than nine hexachrons left this year.
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Gary McCallister is professor of biology at Mesa State College.