Why time flies so fast as we get older

Written by Abigail Sawyer

Do you ever feel like time is just flying by so fast, with days and activities that seemed to last forever as a child going by so quickly now? Well, a researcher believes he can now explain the phenomenon, answering the question: Why does time fly by so fast as we grow older?

Looking at the date and realizing we’re now almost a quarter of the way through the year when the holidays seemed like just last week can leave us dumbfounded – where did all that time go? And, why do the days seem so much shorter than they did when we were younger?

According to Duke University (NC, USA) J.A. Jones Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Adrian Bejan, this apparent temporal discrepancy is due to our aging brains obtaining and processing images much slower.

“People are often amazed at how much they remember from days that seemed to last forever in their youth,” commented Bejan. “It’s not that their experiences were much deeper or more meaningful, it’s just that they were being processed in rapid fire.”

As we grow older, our nerves and neurons also grow, meaning signals must travel further along these pathways. These pathways are also degrading as we age, so the signals are experiencing more resistance.

These factors lead to a decreased rate of the acquisition and processing of mental images, resulting in the feeling that time is passing more quickly because we cannot view the same volume of images in the same amount of time as we did when we were younger. This is also evidenced in why babies move their eyes around so frequently – they are processing images much quicker and so move their eyes more frequently to gain more information.

“The human mind senses time changing when the perceived images change,” explained Bejan. “The present is different from the past because the mental viewing has changed, not because somebody’s clock rings. Days seemed to last longer in your youth because the young mind receives more images during one day than the same mind in old age.”