From The Desk Of Clarence Bass
[Bapan, China] was…a place where people in their nineties and even one hundreds are often still out in their gardens and farm plots growing their own organic food. It’s a place where there is virtually no heart disease or cancer. It’s a place where dementia is all but unheard of. And because of these and other factors, it’s a place where people have an optimistic outlook on growing old. In fact, the oldest people in the village were the most adamant that life keeps getting better with age.
To be honest, all of this was a bit destabilizing for me… I’d been taught that chronic medical problems were just part of aging and that we have medications and surgeries to treat these conditions…
I was treating thousands of patients with the same logic. Lots of medications. Lots of procedures. Lifestyle changes that accommodated their ailments, rather than address the root problems.
John D. Day, MD, The Longevity Plan (Harper, 2017)
The Longevity Plan
Meaningful, Active Living—and Aging
Readers Comment (see below)
Cardiologist John D. Day’s view of aging and longevity underwent a profound change when he had the good fortune of visiting a remote mountainous area in China known as Longevity Village. Forty-four years of age, he was overweight and suffering from arthritis, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. He was beginning to experience aging as he had come to know it. Something you simply had to accept, deal with, and treat.
In the course of living with and studying the people of Bapan, China a/k/a Longevity Village, his perception of aging evolved, with more emphasis on ways to help yourself and less on medical care. Over time he formulated seven principles that work in tandem to create health, happiness, and longevity. Lessons that changed his life and his medical practice.
Six months later he was no longer taking meds, had lost 30 pounds, knocked 100 points off his cholesterol, and lowered his blood pressure from 140/90 to 115/70. He was also putting the seven lessons to work with patients, with good adherence and results.
Here are the seven life-transforming lessons:
1: Eat good foods.
2: Master your mind-set.
3: Build your place in a positive community.
4: Be in motion.
5: Find your rhythm.
6: Make the most of your environment.
7: Proceed with purpose.
The Longevity Plan, co-written with Day’s wife Jane Ann and Matthew LaPlante, devotes a chapter to each of the seven lessons.
“While I still do treat some of my patients with surgical and pharmacological interventions, when necessary, those are not the first solutions we turn to as we work together to address their health needs,” Dr. Day tells us.
Read the book for the full story on each pointer on the road to meaningful, active living—and aging. Very well written, you’ll enjoy learning the story behind each step along the way.
What follows is my take on two of the lessons I found particularly interesting and meaningful.
“The way we think about our lives is perhaps the biggest factor in how our bodies will respond to the conditions of our lives,” Dr. Day writes near the beginning of his chapter on mastering your mind-set.
A few pages into this chapter it became apparent that the theme is essentially the same as that of my book Great Expectations, written on the eve of my 70th birthday. Good news indeed.
The long-lived people of Bapan, China certainly know nothing of me and my take on aging. What delights—and encourages—me is that my mind-set and that of the people of Longevity Village have much in common.
The opening chapter of my book begins with a quote that could’ve been written by Dr. Day: How you think is everything.
“My approach is to work hard, continue to challenge myself—and expect the best,” I wrote in the opening section of my book.
“Whether you are young or old, expect—and work for—the best. If you think you can, you probably can,” I continued.
In spite of two major surgeries, I expected to be as good in my eighth decade as in the previous decade. That’s essentially what has happened.
I am once again entering my next decade having had two surgeries (a second hip replacement and a procedure to open a blockage in my right nostril; both enhancing my ability to train and take care of myself.). Contrary to general expectations (once again), I see no reason to expect anything but the best in the decade ahead. My workouts continue to go well and my diet has never been better. I live a purposeful life doing what I enjoy and do best. Why should I expect anything but the best?
Dr. Day reinforces and expands on that positive approach to aging. What he learned from the people of Longevity Village lifts my expectations all the more.
* * *
“Indeed, if we are going to change our lives for the better, we must first change our minds for the better,” Day begins.
He discovered that people in Bapan think about age differently than we do. While the prevailing Western view is that the elderly are often fragile, slow of mind, and hardened of spirit, age is “exalted” in Bapan. There is a tremendous difference between calendar age and biological age.
He estimated a women who lived with Longevity Village’s newest centenarian to be in her mid-to-late fifties.
“So how has your grandmother’s health been lately?” he asked her.
“Not my grandmother,” she laughed. “She is my mother. I am eighty years old!”
Noting his surprise, she told him that she still worked in her family’s farm plot every day and had no plans of stopping any time soon. “Maybe in twenty years,” she said. “I’ve never had any sickness, I don’t feel tired, and I like to work, so I’m not sure why I would ever stop.”
She had apparently never been told how people in their eighties are supposed to feel and act. “That’s because none of the centenarians in Longevity Village think about growing old, let alone worry about it,” Day explained. “There is no fear in the passing of another year.”
Day says we should get out of the habit of thinking about what is “supposed to happen.”
“All of the centenarians I’ve spoken to in Bapan have told me they are living the best years of their lives,” he continued. What’s more, those not yet 100 longed to get there. “And looking forward to golden years that have potential to be truly golden might be one of the best things you can do for your health right now, no matter what age you are,” he offers.
High or low expectations have a major impact on your results.
In support, Dr. Day cites a study of 660 older Americans which found that people who embraced the aging process and felt like life would get better lived nearly 8 years longer than those with more pessimistic views about aging and the future. “That could be because pessimism can actually deteriorate our DNA,” he adds, citing another study.
“It appears that people who don’t manage high levels of stress age their bodies by nine to seventeen years,” Day continued.
Returning to the Longevity Village for an example, Day tells how a centenarian reacted to losing her beautiful view of the river and the mountains beyond.
“Didn’t that make you angry,” he asked her.
“It doesn’t matter,” she responded. “I know that the river is still there. And now I have another excuse to take a walk to see it.”
There’s more, but you get the idea. “Attitude matters.”
To realize your great expectations you must also find a rhythm that makes you happy and keeps you healthy.
Find Your Rhythm
The centenarians of Bapan lead a life of almost perfect rhythm. Death comes swiftly after years of active living—and good health.
Dr. Day offers the example of Maxue. She was 103 when they met and confined to a wheelchair for nearly a year after breaking her hip in a fall. “Until my fall, I had not needed a doctor in my life,” she told Day. Comfortable with little pain, her only complaint was that she couldn’t move around as much as she would like.
Her death came swiftly and peacefully the next year. She accepted it as part of the rhythm of life.
“Maxue had lived a life of almost perfect rhythm,” Day tells us.
You could practically set your watch by the progression of her day.
Maxue was up with the sun—there are no alarm clocks in Bapan—and had a breakfast of porridge and vegetables. Soon after she was on her way to the fields or off to the market to sell the rice wines produced by her family.
She had lunch at about the same time each day: vegetables, fruit, legumes, and often fish harvested that morning. After work she sat down for dinner with her extended family. As the sun was setting, she went to her loom to weave until the traces of daylight are gone. She then went to her room and drifted off to asleep on a simple wooden mat.
After hearing that she had not needed a doctor until her fall, Dr. Day checked her pulse. “It was strong and steady, and I told her so.”
“Still, Maxue told me, she sensed she wouldn’t be alive much longer. She recalled that her husband’s death, in the late 1990s, had come swiftly after years of him being very healthy. And if these were her final days, she said, that was fine.”
“It is very good to have a long and healthy life,” she told the doctor. “And when it comes to an end that is good, too. That is part of the rhythm of our lives.”
Bringing us to modern day America, Dr. Day tells about a patient named Jack, who came to him shortly after suffering a heart attack at work.
“Jack was forty-three, a bit overweight, had high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and was a proud workaholic,” Dr. Day begins. There was damage to Jack’s heart and, complicating matters, it had caused atrial fibrillation. “I told Jack it was a warning sign; without significant changes to his lifestyle his heart failure was going to get worse and he would be at risk of another heart attack.” As if that wasn’t enough to get Jack’s attention, Day warned that he would need an “implantable defibrillator."
“I don’t understand,” Jack replied. “I know I don’t eat as well as I could, but I ski and I ride a mountain bike a lot.” Asked about the frequency, he admitted that his skiing and biking was, “just when I can get a chance between work.”
After a little prodding, he fessed up that he worked 24-hours-a-day when his work as freelance software developer piled up—and ate fast food at his desk. When thing lightened up he enjoyed cooking healthy meals for himself and his girlfriend who wasn’t around so much when he was busy “on account of the fact that I’m pretty insufferable when I’m working all the time.”
“You have no rhythm in your life,” Day told him, adding that his heart condition might resolve itself, “if we could get his life into rhythm.”
Jack shaped up for a while, but soon relapsed into his erratic ways.
“How’s your sleep,” Day asked him during their next meeting.
“Work keeps piling up,” Jack said. “Sometimes I have no choice but to stay up late.”
When they discussed this conundrum, Day reminded Jack that it’s exceedingly hard to maintain rhythm in one area of our life if we’re out of sync in another. He also talked to him about what he had learned in Longevity Village and studies linking erratic sleep schedules to heart attacks, brain damage, and dementia.
That did it. Jack got the message.
He began turning down projects that would not allow him to end his workday by 9:00 and be in bed by 11:00. He also committed to rising with the sun, just like the villagers in Bapan, to get a bright start on everything he needed to do during the day. He was actually getting more sleep and getting more done by working less.
“Getting more sleep tends to put us at our best,” Day observed.
Before long, Jack’s weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, and resting heart rate had all fallen. His heart had completely healed and he no longer suffered from atrial fibrillation.
“Well Doc,” Jack said as Day entered the examining room, “how do I look?
Looking Jack up and down, and flipping through his charts, Day beamed, “You look like a Bapan centenarian.”
Carol picked up The Longevity Plan on the “new books” table at the public library near our home. I might’ve passed on it as just another book about a small village populated by people completely unrelated to us. They live the way they live and eat the way they do because they have no other choice. That’s true, but as we have seen, they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Carol told me about Dr. Day’s seven lessons and I was hooked. The more I read the more insight I gained. About the trajectory of my own life.
I would very likely be dead or in poor health had I not ventured out on my own after becoming a name partner in the law firm where I spent my first decade of lawyering. I left to be my own boss and devote more time to our budding fitness business. I had no idea how well I would do practicing law on my own and pursuing my lifelong interest in fitness. Looking back through the looking glass of Dr. Day's book, I have a better understanding of why I have done so well.
My climb from junior associate to name partner was a necessary but brutal stage in my development as an attorney, preparing me to make a living practicing law on my own for the next 24 years. I still have nightmares about that first stint as a lawyer. Mainly about my relationship with the senior partner, a brilliant trial lawyer who could practically bring you to your knees with a stare. His look could be devastating.
He grudgingly acknowledged that I became a “pretty good lawyer.” He delighted in kibitzing with the district attorney about my success in a difficult criminal case I was appointed by the court to handle. The man I was appointed to defend was found guilty, but only after three trials. I did my job making the prosecutors prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Walking into the head honcho’s office to tell him I was leaving was perhaps the most bold and daring thing I ever did. I was told later that he questioned whether I could survive on my own.
I’ve often wondered what he would think about how well I have done by charting my own course—establishing a rhythm suited to my interests and abilities.
Finding my own rhythm has allowed me to not only survive, but thrive—with no need for an alarm clock.
In my 80th year I’m on a health track like Maxue. Expecting another decade or two of good health and then a swift and peaceful demise. I’ll have to admit, however, that I’m still working on the “acceptance” part.
October 1, 2017
Thanks so much for this month's article on the Longevity Village. It chimes so much with what I've learned from experience in my own life. Also your description of finding your own route to authenticity rings so true for me. I'm sure you're right that it has been the key to your survival and ultimate flourishing.
I wish you continued health, happiness and success in the coming decades. Like you, I'm determined to face the future, not with the anxiety that our so-called 'developed' culture so often needlessly promotes, but with growing optimism and your example is a continuing inspiration in that regard.
I read the Bapan China
article on your website. Fantastic. One of the best you have written
in my opinion. Your explanation of your own experience and how it
mirrored Dr. Day's findings really put things into context. I have
been studying Blue Zone/health /longevity data for some years.....As
I have said many times, we have sub pockets of Blue Zone type folks
in our modern world....You are one of them.....and we need to learn
from these people how to adapt the "7 lessons of longevity" to
living in Denver etc..........I bought the book immediately.
Wade Smith, MD
Just read the Longevity Plan article. A great article.
I remember when Len (Dr. Schwartz) was alive we talked about maintaining a positive attitude and purpose in live. Although I think his wife's passing effected him deeply and he didn’t sell himself, push his ideas and inventions as he could/should(?) have, he still came up with different exercises and techniques and choreographies. Even when he was sick, going through chemo he was designing and creating exercises for bed ridden people. (Whole body involvement of course)
He exercised up until he just couldn't anymore. What a purpose driven life!
[Dr. Len Schwartz found his rhythm late in life as the inventor of HeavyHands: http://www.cbass.com/LeonardSchwartz.htm ]
We all tend to have quirky things we do, my "strange thing" when I wake up in the morning in my brain, in James Brown's voice I hear singing: I feel good: wa, wa, wa, wa, Like I know I should now: wa, wa.wa, wa, So good! So good! This day's for you now!
My positive attitude song I guess!! Not sure why that has stuck in my head.
I know you stated you were
still having trouble with the "acceptance" part. When I was in
college, I took a health class and had to write a paper, so I wrote
on Death and Dying (accepting death). My quote was: "Death is not an
enemy to be conquered, rather a friend to be embraced."
Longevity runs in both sides of my family so I have had a lot of good counseling over the years: key statements: "You gotta' keep moving" Also: "Stay relevant, accept changes and new attitudes. Make friends with and stay engaged with younger folks and folks with different ideas."
My grandparents told me the hardest part of living so long is that all/most of your friends have passed.
My paternal grandfather, when he started failing and his doctor told him he didn't think he had much time left, asked the Doctor if he knew what Geronimo said. The Doctor said "No."
"Today, is a good day to die." And about a week later he did just that.
I would submit to you that learning to live well is just as important as dying well as it is the ultimate fate of us all.
But I would agree with the poet Dylan Thomas: Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
I plan to live joyfully,
purposefully and enjoying life to the fullest. As I told my Doctor,
if the human life span is really 120 years, I have from the next
nano-second to 60 years to accomplish whatever I set out to do!!
Really enjoyed "The Longevity Plan" in your latest update. One area of physical well being that I have not been good at through the years in the "Stress Factor." I have always had a sense of urgency or, as some would say, a type A personality, and the "hot response" and subsequent stress that goes along with that personality. It's only been in the last 10 years or so that I've identified that as being an issue and worked at letting go. I'm still goal oriented (not a bad thing) but hopefully less intense in situations that don't require it!
Interesting in your article how "progressive weight training" and "aerobic interval training" are not the topics of conversation among these long-livers...but instead, a good diet, an active meaningful life, and a positive attitude that doesn't view age as a deficit. Not to say that I'm going to quit my training program, but I would like to cultivate that Longevity Village attitude as an important adjunct!
Thank for the article.
I just got finished reading
your extensive new postings for October and wanted to tell you how
much I enjoyed them (as always). I can tell how enthusiastic and
excited you are about The Longevity Plan. It’s as if you suddenly
found an entire village of kindred spirits tucked away in the remote
mountains of China! Yet it is truly an amazing story, and it sounds
like Dr. Day does a wonderful job of conveying to the reader his own
transformation through the example of the people from Longevity
Dan Keating, Professor
November 1, 2017
Ripped Enterprises, P.O. Box 51236, Albuquerque, New Mexico 87181-1236
Copyright © 2017 Clarence and Carol Bass. All rights reserved.