The Key to Longevity May Lie in This Village

Boxin Huang (115) is the oldest resident of China’s Bapan Village, a tiny village where some of the oldest people in the world reside. At 115, Huang’s age is remarkable, but he is not alone, as many residents live long past 100 years. In fact, the town has around one centenarian for every 100 people living there; whereas the average ratio of centenarians in the US is one in 5780. Could this tiny village in China hold the secret to longevity?

John Day, MD, a cardiologist and medical director at the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute in Utah, discovered the village during a trip to China several years ago. He was amazed with what he saw, so he studied it extensively, and co-wrote a book about it with his wife, Jane, titled “The Longevity Plan: Seven Life-Transforming Lessons from Ancient China,” focusing on a lifestyle program that is grounded in the longstanding tradition found in the Chinese village.

A Mandarin speaker, Dr. Day came across intriguing research in a Chinese medical journal about Bapan Village, located in an area with one of the highest concentrations of people over the age of one hundred anywhere in the world. Deciding to investigate this potential fountain of youth further, Dr. Day first ventured out there in 2012. He discovered a place where incredibly low levels of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and dementia are the norm, even among its oldest residents.

Dr. Day not only studied the village. He also practiced its philosophies for good health, and he is living proof that the time-tested principles of well-being found in Bapan really do work. Just a few years ago when he was in his 40’s, Dr. Day was overweight due to a poor diet, in constant pain, and completely stressed out. He took six different medicines daily to combat his various conditions, which included high cholesterol, high blood pressure, degenerative joint disease, and insomnia. He had to heal himself. But how? The answers came in his research of the people of Bapan, China.

Since his initial visit to Bapan in 2012, Dr. Day has shed 35 pounds, shaved nearly 100 points off of his cholesterol level, reduced his blood pressure significantly, and improved his sleep. He’s been able to stop all of his prescriptions and resume vigorous workouts. The simple, yet profound, steps that he followed and wrote about in his book, include:

  • Eat good food: A good diet, free of added sugars and processed foods naturally plays a role, as does physical activity.
  • Master your mind-set: Some simple changes in mindset can help, too. He suggests that people smile more often. One resident, named Mawen, was 107 years old when they first met. She was feisty, funny and always smiling. When Dr. Day asked if she smiled even through there were the hard times in her life, she replied in Mandarin, “Those are the times in which smiling is most important, don’t you agree?”
  • Build your place in a positive community: All of the centenarians Dr. Day spoke to in Bapan told him that they are living the best years of their lives. Looking forward to later years that could be truly golden and seeing the positivity in things might be among the best things you can do for your health.
  • Be in motion: The older residents of Longevity Village never intended to exercise, but they did get exercise — lots of it. Almost every waking moment of their lives was spent in motion.
  • Rethink Stress: Among the people of Bapan, Dr. Day found an exceptionally low level of perceived stress. One day, he found himself picking vegetables with a man named Li Yu, who told Dr. Day that he was 50 years old. When Dr. Day mentioned that working in the field seemed like difficult and stressful work, Yu said, “It is hard work. By the time I am back at my home, though, I don’t think about how hard it is. I am always feeling satisfied about what I have accomplished during the day.”
  • Don’t forget to play. Many of us spend at least some of our lives engaged in exercise and athletics, but most of us don’t play. The villagers incorporated play throughout their days. Mawen, for instance, told Dr. Day about the adlibbed songs that she and her husband would sing as they worked in the fields. Day stresses that you can add play even in small ways. He says, “(w)hen I’m on call, I am often running from one end of the hospital to the other. Now, to make it a game, I try to see how many steps I can log on my iPhone.”
  • Make the most of your environment: The people living in Bapan Village are a five-hour bus ride away from the rest of civilization, so air pollution is not a problem there, at least not yet. But even here, you can take steps to ensure your air is as clean as possible. “If you smoke, stop. And invest in an air filter if you need to,” says Day.
  • Be socially connected: “Study after study shows the more social support, the longer people live. People have better survival when they are socially connected,” says Day. “Having a sense of purpose can significantly increase your longevity.” Research shows that men and women with stronger social relationships have a 50 percent higher likelihood of surviving longer, according to a review of studies including 308,000 participants.

Dr. Day has also used the lessons he learned to change his patients’ lives, as well, and he shares many of their inspirational success stories in the book. He says everyone, young and old, can benefit from the implementation of these choices and attitudes, too.

“The elderly residents of Bapan don’t just survive. They thrive physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually,” said Dr. Day. “And everyone can follow their lead. From consuming fresh, nutrient-rich fare to harnessing reserves of resilience in the face of inevitable hardships to setting (and resetting) fulfilling goals, our book provides a blueprint for greeting each day with optimism, energy, fortitude, and balance-and ensuring sound minds and active bodies for all the tomorrows to come.”

How Could We Live to Be 100 Or More?

In Bapan Village, people age very slowly and don’t struggle with obesity; villagers in their 90s and even 100s are often still out in their gardens and farms. There is virtually no heart disease or cancer. Dementia is all but unheard of.

Hopefully, some of the lessons Dr. Day shares from Bapan Village can be incorporated into our lives here. Remember, as you are eating healthy, exercising, and minimizing stress to maximize your longevity, it is also a good idea to plan for your future and for your loved ones. Our firm is dedicated to helping protect seniors by preserving dignity, quality of life, and financial security. If you have not done Long-Term Care Planning, Estate Planning, or Incapacity Planning (or had your Planning documents reviewed in the past several years), or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, please call us to make an appointment for a no-cost initial consultation:

Fairfax Elder Law Attorney: 703-691-1888

Fredericksburg Elder Law Attorney: 540-479-1435

Rockville Elder Law Attorney: 301-519-8041

DC Elder Law Attorney: 202-587-2797

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