#224 The Longevity Plan

The Longevity Plan

I never thought I would write a book.  Much less, I never imagined that this book, The Longevity Plan, would sit for weeks as the number one Amazon best seller just from book pre-orders alone or be featured in world-wide publications like the Wall Street Journal.

The Longevity Plan came almost by accident.  Six year ago I had lost my health.  Even as a Stanford University trained cardiologist at the top of my field, I was taking five different medications just to get me through the day.

Something had to change.  Not only for me but for the lives of thousands of my patients who also felt horrible taking many mediations.

The seven lessons we learned from China’s Longevity Village not only cured me naturally from the many medical conditions I was suffering from but have also helped thousands of my patients, blog readers, and podcast listeners as well.

The Longevity Plan represents five years of research and writing.  In this book you will find everything you need to reverse or prevent any medical condition you may be facing.  Better yet, you will feel much more energetic, stronger, and happier than you do today.

On July 4th, The Longevity Plan will be released.  If you have not yet ordered your copy, do so now by clicking on this link.  You will never regret this decision!

As The Longevity Plan has not yet been released, I would like to share an excerpt from the beginning of the book with you…

The Longevity Plan

By mid-morning the doughnuts would be gone.

That fact was an essential part of my planning each day as I prepared my breakfast in the doctor’s lounge at the hospital where I work. I’d always grab a doughnut, a bagel, and a Diet Coke. Then I’d grab a second doughnut, wrap it in a napkin, and stash it in a cabinet just outside of the operating room.

My colleagues laughed and rolled their eyes. I just shrugged. It all seemed perfectly rational to me.

My Life as a Cardiologist

My days as a cardiologist were filled with pacemaker implantations, procedures to three-dimensionally “map and zap” potentially fatal heart arrhythmias, and defibrillator surgeries. In between I’d snack.

Lunch on most days was a slice of pizza, or two, and another Diet Coke. On long days, I dined in the hospital cafeteria on a cheeseburger, fries, and a chocolate chip cookie.

I knew these weren’t good food choices. But I told myself, given my hectic schedule, I didn’t have time for anything else.

Besides, I justified, many other doctors also partook of the free junk food at the hospital, and all of them seemed reasonably healthy. And my hospital was just like all the others I’d ever worked in or visited. At Johns Hopkins University where I graduated from medical school. At Stanford University where I did my residency in internal medicine and fellowships in cardiology and cardiac electrophysiology. As an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Utah. At nearly every hospital I’d visited as a guest lecturer. If this is the kind of food offered to doctors all over the country, I reasoned, it couldn’t be that bad.

I Thought Exercise Could Fix a Bad Diet

I always figured I was making up for it with exercise. I was a religious runner—a marathoner, no less—and had been for twenty years. It’s one thing to eat healthy and be able to run 26.2 miles. I was eating trash and was still able to do it. Surely, I told myself, that wasn’t just an indication I was healthy, it was an indication I was more than healthy.

Except I wasn’t. Not even close.

Life Was Too Busy

It wasn’t just what I ate; it was how I lived. I worked too many hours. I took too few vacation days. I didn’t spend nearly enough time with my family. I spent a lot of time considering my productivity, and not much time contemplating my purpose. Life was a bit of a blur.

I was overweight, overworked, hypertensive, and had a cholesterol level much higher than it should have been. I was tired and stressed all the time.

The Breakdown

I was also in constant pain. There was pain in my chest from acid reflux. There was pain in my back and neck from an autoimmune disease called ankylosing spondylitis. Food often became lodged in my esophagus from a condition called eosinophilic esophagitis, which made it difficult for me to swallow.

Many of these conditions ran in my family. And so I blamed my genes. I figured there wasn’t much sense in trying to fight it. This was just part of getting old. This was my lot in life.

I took five medications daily. And that helped . . . a bit . . . for a while.

I Dreamed of Retirement

At forty-four years old, I found myself daydreaming about retirement. Someday I’d settle down and life would be good again. Or maybe it would just be less bad. That was the same thing, wasn’t it?

In the meantime: One more busy week. One more missed vacation. One more doughnut.

I don’t particularly enjoy talking about the way I was back then, but my hope is that, in coming clean about my challenges, you’ll come to see that the health struggles you’ve faced in your life can be resolved with a few minor course corrections. Forgive me if I shed a bit of modesty here to drive this point home, but I’m a good doctor.

I’ve recently been named the president of the Heart Rhythm Society, an international organization of thousands of cardiologists in more than seventy countries. Over my twenty-year career I’ve performed more than 6,000 catheter ablations and more than 3,000 pacemaker or defibrillator implantations. I’ve treated tens of thousands of patients.

I had access to more information about healthy living than most people could ever dream of, and all the resources I needed to make changes. In spite of all of that, I was still confused about what I should be doing to get myself back on track to a happier and healthier life. So whether this is the first time you’ve ever considered making changes to your life to improve your health or you’ve been trying for years, you’re in good company.

Find Your Longevity Plan

And the truth is that even though I’ve turned my life around in a way that feels to me and my family like a miracle, I’m not here to peddle miracles, least of all by telling you that you should do everything I did, because it doesn’t work that way. Everyone’s a bit different, and some of us are a lot different.

So what I’d like to do is help you figure out what works for you. Regardless of our individual circumstances, there do exist basic principles of well-being that can lead us all to a better life, but you get to choose how to adapt these principles in your own journey.

And on that journey, I’d be pleased to be your guide.

The Longevity Village Centenarians

Not by myself, though. In these pages, I’m going to introduce you to some of the world’s most qualified people on the subject of living longer, healthier, and happier lives. Their names are Boxin, Magan, Maxue, Mawen, Masongmou, Makun, and Makang.

In 2012, they were the seven centenarians of Bapan, a village in southwest China, not far from the Vietnamese border, that rests in the middle of a region with one of the highest known concentrations of people over the age of one hundred anywhere in the world. These six women and one man have lived by these basic principles of well-being without ever thinking about it. It’s simply part of their lives.

I’m not only going to tell you how they live today, because no one wants to live like a centenarian, no matter how healthy they might be. I’m also going to tell you how they lived throughout their lives. I’ll also introduce you to some of the other people, from every generation, who live, laugh, love, and work in this remarkable place. Together, these people have helped me shape my ideas on well-being, and those ideas, in turn, have helped me help lots of my patients be well.

The Longevity Plan Changed My Patients’ Lives

In 2014, I began a series of four-month support groups comprising patients who worked together to apply the lessons of Longevity Village to their lives. Even having come to believe strongly in the power of the Longevity Village lifestyle, I was astonished by the results; 92 percent of the participants were able to adhere to their plans and stay on pace to reach their health goals.

These are people who often had abused their bodies for years, had decades upon decades of bad health habits, and often had no real support at home. Despite these challenges, most have been able to reverse at least some of their chronic medical conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, obesity, atrial fibrillation, insomnia, fatigue, acid reflux, heart failure, and high cholesterol.

I’ve seen similar outcomes among hundreds of other individual patients who have embraced these lessons. After launching a website dedicated to helping people live happier and healthier lives, people from around the world have shared with me their stories of radical personal transformation. And, of course, my own life stands in testament to the effectiveness of this model; it has been completely transformed.

Why Does It Work?

Why does it work? Janine, a 41-year-old programmer from San Francisco, was battling obesity and some associated heart irregularities when she first came to see me. In nine months, her weight was down more than 45 pounds and her heart troubles were sub-diagnostic, as though they’d never occurred at all.

“For me,” she wrote six months into her Longevity Village journey, “this way of living just feels right. It’s hard to explain, but it’s almost like this is the way we would all be living if our ancestors had just recognized that, as we modernized, we couldn’t simply leave everything that was good about the old ways behind.”

With those words, Janine eloquently shared something I’d had a bit of trouble expressing when I was first explaining this health model to my patients. The Longevity Village lifestyle isn’t about living like people in a remote part of China did in the past; it’s about living in the modern world with a bit of ancient wisdom to guide our way toward happier, healthier futures.

The Story Behind the Longevity Plan

I came to learn about Bapan almost by accident. When I was nineteen-years old, as part of my faith, I’d spent two years working with the Chinese immigrant population in New York City. Until that point, I didn’t know the first thing about China. I didn’t know anything about its rich history or cultural traditions. I didn’t know a word of Mandarin. I didn’t even like Chinese food.

But during that amazing time in my life, I came to adore the language, the culture, and the people I lived with and worked among. Long after I returned home to Utah from New York, I remained fascinated by China, and continued working to develop my language skills, such that today I am one of few Caucasian doctors who regularly gives medical lectures in Chinese.

I’m told my accent isn’t half bad. “You’re like a proper Běijīng rén,” a friend from China’s capital city told me recently, using the words that describe a resident of Beijing. I beamed with pride.

Mandarin isn’t an easy language to master, though, and thirty years after first learning how to say nǐ hǎo with appropriate intonation, I’m still working on it. So each week, over a video conference call, I meet with my Mandarin language coach, Zheng Lv, who lives in Xi’an, the starting point of the northern route of the famed Silk Road and the home of Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s incredible Terracotta Army.

As we chat, Zheng helps correct my tones and pronunciation, and sometimes introduces me to new words and Chinese concepts. Our sessions together are generally conversations, prompted by something we’ve heard about in the Chinese or American news media, and sometimes I tell her about an article of particular interest I’ve read in a Chinese or American medical journal.

That’s what happened in 2012, when I mentioned to Zheng an article I’d read about the Bama County Centenarian Study, which had been published in a Chinese medical journal.  At the time I was exploring the literature on how certain groups of people, living in certain ways, seem to be defying the conventional laws of aging.

When I mentioned the article, Zheng told me she’d just seen a TV program about this region of China, where people reportedly live remarkably long lives free of the conditions that typically come with aging. The village of Bapan, Zheng said, was getting quite a bit of attention in China. “They say the land has magical properties,” she told me. “In China they now call this place Longevity Village.”

The Longevity Village

Longevity Village, I learned, was a small, poor and remote town of just a few hundred people in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. I’d never been to that part of China before, but I knew that rural villages in China’s more remote areas often suffered from a lack of quality medical services.

I also knew that, in general across the world, poor people don’t tend to live as long and often have poorer health than people who live in more developed areas. Yet if what I was learning was true, none of that seemed to matter. Through happiness and hardship, into their eighties, nineties, and one hundreds, with few modern conveniences and even less medical intervention, the people of Bapan survive and thrive.

Over time, Zheng and I would return to the subject of Bapan again and again. I’d tell her what I’d been learning in my studies of the medical literature, and she would tell me what she was hearing about this area in China’s popular media. I felt like I simply couldn’t get enough information.

“Qǐng duō gàosù wǒ yīdiǎn,” I’d say to her. “Please, tell me more.”

Zheng probably wondered why I was so obsessed. What she didn’t know was that I’d finally hit a health crisis and the solutions I’d tried simply weren’t working. My conditions had worsened. My pain had, too. I couldn’t run like I used to, so I was putting on even more weight. At the end of each day at the hospital I felt exhausted, but at night I was restless. I was tired all the time, so I was irritable.

I’d lost hope.

Bit by bit, though, I was finding glimpses of it in what I was learning about Longevity Village, and every time I’d find a new bit of research, or found another doctor who had done work in Bama County, I’d feel as though I was further unlocking some sort of magical treasure chest. For most of my life I’ve been an early-to-bed sort of guy, but I spent long hours, late into the night, hovered over my computer, poring over the Chinese medical literature in search of more information about Bapan.

It was my wife, who quickly came to share my excitement, who finally convinced me we needed to go.

So that’s what I did.

And it changed my life.

Our First Visit to Longevity Village

My first trip to Bapan came in the summer of 2012.  With me, as she has been on all our excursions to Bama County, was my wife Jane. Joining us was our eldest son, Joshua, who was then nine years old.

We’d intended to arrive in the village the evening before, rest up, and head straight to the home of one of the village centenarians at first daylight. Getting to Longevity Village had proved to be a challenge, though. We’d faced torrential rains on narrow mountain roads as we moved deep into northwest Bama County only to find, as night fell and the thunder and lightning pounded the skies, that we’d been dropped off at the wrong village.

We stayed in a guesthouse and, when we awoke the next morning, learned we were not far from Bapan. We made our way there in a rickety three-wheeled moto-taxi, which dropped us off on the main road.

Day One in Longevity Village

I probably should have been tired after such a long trip. It had been a three-day journey from our home in the United States and, troubled by the notion that we’d already been steered off course, I hadn’t slept well the night before.

But as we stepped into the village and saw a welcome sign festooned with the photos of the village’s seven centenarians, I felt a surge of energy and excitement unlike anything I’d ever experienced. And as I looked around at my traveling companions it was clear they felt the same.

Underneath each photograph was a brief biography of each of the elders in Chinese characters. I translated the words for my wife and son.

“Some of these people were here a hundred years before I was even born!” Joshua marveled.

“Who should we meet first?” I asked.

“I’m dying to meet Boxin,” Jane replied, pointing to the weather-faded photograph of the man at the center of the sign. “Can we find him first?”

In Search of the Oldest Centenarian

Boxin, pronounced (bwo-sheen), was the oldest man in the village, purportedly having been born in 1898. He wasn’t hard to find. Everyone in the village knew who he was and where he lived, and they were anxious to take us to see him.

We were led first to a narrow set of concrete stairs leading from the village’s main road, along the riverfront, to a second flight of homes. A few of the houses seemed to be very old, little more than sticks and mud bricks. Many more, though, were newer. Albeit still quite simple, they were of wood, cement, and cinder block construction.

As we walked, a local villager told us Boxin had attained a kind of celebrity status in the region, and even throughout China. When we arrived at his modest home, though, it was clear that “celebrity” didn’t come with any Western-style monetary rewards.

We climbed a small set of stairs into the second story of the basic cement home. The front room was three-sided, sort of like a dollhouse in which parts of the interior are visible to anyone from the outside. We stepped through the open space and into a small entryway. No one appeared to be home, but I heard faint sounds coming from the interior. A moment later, one of Boxin’s relatives appeared outside.

The man’s face contorted into what I read to be a mixture of surprise and puzzlement. As had been the case throughout our journey to this place, I sensed that my family and I might have been some of the first Caucasians these rural Chinese had ever encountered.

Finding Boxin

“Hello,” I greeted him in Mandarin. “We’ve come here all the way from America and we wanted to see Boxin. Is he home?”

Upon hearing my Chinese, the man lit up.

“Yes, yes of course. He will be so excited to see you,” the man said.

The man, who introduced himself as Boxin’s grandson, told us that like most of the village elders Boxin didn’t speak Mandarin, but offered to translate between my Mandarin and his grandfather’s village dialect, called Zhuàng huà.

We were ushered deeper inside the house, past a small partition into a kind of waiting room. The sounds from inside grew more distinct. We made our introductions to more of Boxin’s family members. His great-grandchildren crowded around us, as eager to see and speak with us as I was to meet their patriarch.

We were then led into a larger living room area. In a corner, to my surprise, were a few youngsters watching television; my preconception of a village where everyone is so incredibly healthy was that it would be a place where no one sat around watching TV.

One of the great-grandchildren explained that because of the number of Chinese people who wanted to meet Boxin, they’d turned this space into a kind of reception area. Along one wall sat an ornate cushioned settee, what Joshua later described as a throne.

A colorful ceramic relief with mountains, trees, flying geese, and a tremendously large red Chinese hieroglyph, which I recognized as the symbol for longevity, served as a backdrop. No one occupied the central seat, but it was clear who would.

A large plaque bearing a government proclamation honoring the home’s ancient owner hung as though this was some kind of museum. Along that same wall, and several others, were photographs. Almost all depicted a man with a narrow face and small, dark eyes, usually wearing a round cap. In one photo the little old man was at the center of a table with six elderly women, three on each side, smiling and conversing.

The Village Centenarians are Thriving

“Those are all of the centenarians together,” the grandson explained.

My mind was having trouble registering what I was seeing. The people in the photograph looked as though perhaps they were in their mid-eighties.

“But this must have been very many years ago,” I said.

“Not at all,” the grandson replied. “That photograph was taken last year.”

I looked again at the photo and four smaller ones below it depicting the same meal. All of the people in the pictures were sitting perfectly upright. Each was balancing a bowl in one hand with chopsticks deftly perched in the other. They were smiling and laughing. One was rising from her chair, stretching out to reach for something across the table.

Jane’s attention was drawn to another room. She motioned to me. I stepped toward the doorway and heard a younger woman engaged in an animated conversation with someone. She seemed a bit exasperated, urging whoever she was speaking with to hurry up. A moment later, I got my first glimpse of Boxin.

Our First Meeting with Boxin

At a reported age of 114, he was the oldest person I’d ever seen, and the oldest person in this village, but instead of being seated in a wheelchair or residing in a bed, he was searching intently through a closet, then under his mattress, then back to the closet again.  He moved with a fluidity and intensity that surprised me, bending and stooping, turning to respond to a woman who must have been one of his great-granddaughters.

He moved like our nine-year-old son! He bent at the waist, flexed his knees, and turned his head, with the freedom and energy of someone less than half his age. I didn’t hear the sort of grunting that accompanied nearly every one of my exertions.

When one of his great-granddaughters finally said, “American,” the spritely old man froze. He stood fully erect and turned to look at us and his face exploded into a wide smile. He reached out to Jane and, holding her hands in his, exclaimed, “Americans! We are friends! China and America are friends!”

“Yes!”, Jane responded enthusiastically in her best Mandarin, “We are friends!”

As we walked to the reception room, I learned something remarkable from one of Boxin’s great-grandsons. Even after Boxin had passed the hundred-year mark, he had continued to work in the fields, and was the extended family’s main provider of food and income. Long after many of his fellow centenarians had stopped this kind of work Boxin had continued to do arduous labor.

“Only in the past two years has he slowed down a little bit,” the great grandson said.

I chuckled at that. Boxin’s “slow” mode was considerably quicker than many people’s “fast.”

Several minutes later, Boxin returned, smoothing his traditional changshan and black trousers.

“Come,” he said. “We will eat.”

I would have been perfectly content to simply sit and talk with Boxin for hours to come, but our relationship began with an invitation to share food. And that, I believe, is a very good place for relationships to begin.

Start with Real Food

I think that was the very first thing Boxin taught me. Nourishment is, after all, the beginning of everything else we do. If we’re going to do something radical, such as resolving to live longer, happier, healthier lives, it should begin with what we eat.

That’s where this book will begin, but this is a not a diet book, especially if you think of a diet as a plan that limits the amount of food you can eat. Instead, this is a story about a village where eating real food, and plenty of it, is just part of a lifestyle where no one stresses out about living long, healthy, and happy lives. They just do it.

And if they can, all of us can.

My Failed Attempts to Lose Weight

Like almost everyone else in the United States, I’d tried a lot of different diets and exercise regimens over the years, without much success or benefit. I’d consulted fellow doctors and nutritionists. Everyone seemed to have a different answer for me.

But everything began to change as I came to know the villagers of Bapan.

Here was a place where people age very slowly and don’t struggle with diets or obesity. It’s 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 just keeps getting better with age.

They Don’t Get Sick in Longevity Village

To be honest, all of this was a bit destabilizing for me. It stood in stark contrast to much of what I’d learned at Johns Hopkins and Stanford. In those places, I’d been taught that chronic medical problems were just part of aging and that we have medications and surgeries to treat these conditions. In this way of looking at life, a painful decline was pretty much inevitable; all we could do was make it more tolerable.

This was also in line with the hundreds of medical studies, abstracts, and book chapters I have published over the years on cardiovascular disease, strokes, and dementia. All along I had just considered these conditions to be a normal part of the aging process.

As a cardiologist specializing in the treatment of atrial fibrillation, a condition most often brought on by our modern lifestyle, high blood pressure, and obesity, I was treating thousands of patients with that same logic. Lots of medication. Lots of procedures. Lifestyle changes that accommodated their ailments, rather than addressing the root problems.

Bapan was like a tonic to all of that.

Longevity Village’s Centenarians

At the time of my first visit, there were only about 550 people living in Bapan. Not surprisingly, the number of centenarians fluctuates from time to time as the eldest residents die, quickly and peacefully in their sleep, in most cases, and the relatively large number of people in their tenth decade cross the threshold into their 100s. Conservatively, though, there’s usually at least 1 centenarian for every 100 people living there.

It’s one thing to live long, but in the time I’ve spent with the folks who live in Bapan, I’ve learned that these people don’t just survive into old age; they thrive in every way. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. Spiritually.

Here, the elderly rarely need medications or surgeries and they don’t hobble around or live in nursing homes. They’re active, engaged members of their communities. They take walks. They work in the fields. They greet visitors. They play mahjong. They cook and clean for themselves and others. They take care of children.

They even do kung fu! To witness, as I have, a 110-year-old woman walking down the street throwing kicks and chops is a wondrous experience.

This is what makes Bapan so fascinating, and what makes the lessons its residents can share with us so important. Because, while I was certainly interested in meeting these centenarians, I wasn’t that taken by the mythical status of attaining one hundred years on the planet.

To me, longevity wasn’t a goal but an indicator. Surely, in order to grow so old, the people in Bapan must have been doing something to stay healthy, not just in their final years but throughout their lives. I wanted to know what it was. I wanted to know how they lived, what they ate, how they exercised, and what their environment looked like. And if they were doing something so right, maybe I could, too.

They Never Needed a Doctor

After all, most of the living centenarians in Bama County reached their eighties and nineties without ever having been to see a doctor, let alone visit a hospital. While they do have health care services available to them, now, that’s a relatively recent development; it has only been within the past ten years that they’ve had access to modern doctors.

Before the late 1990s, when this village slowly became known throughout China, the average income was about 120 yuan; that’s roughly $20 a year. For the vast majority of their lives, these villagers received no medical care whatsoever. Yet today they are as active and vital as people half their age, and often showing few signs of slowing down.

Chronic Medical Conditions

And it’s not just how they act, it’s what’s going on inside their bodies, too. American twenty- to thirty-four-year-olds have a substantially higher incidence of high blood pressure than the hundred-year-olds in Bama County.

Meanwhile, the rate of heart disease in the United States is 17 times higher than it is in rural China, even though there is no culture of “exercising” there.  The rate of breast cancer is 10 times higher in the United States, even though there are no screening mammograms in areas of China like this.  The rate of dementia is more than three times higher, and no, they don’t do crossword puzzles to combat memory loss.

This isn’t a case of a few random people in a remote village who happen to live longer than Americans do. This is the case of a special place in the world where health, happiness, and longevity have been a way of life for a very long time.

Longevity Village is Changing

How much longer will Longevity Village be Longevity Village? That’s a very open question. There is a concern among some people in Bapan that the fundamental things that make the village so incredibly special are being inexorably changed as modern society encroaches on this little part of the world.

In just the past few years, as greater China has become aware of the “miracles” that happen there, Bama County has become a vacation destination for rich Chinese seeking quick cures to their ailments. Ironically and tragically, because they’re often looking for miracles, rather than wisdom, many of these “medical tourists” have brought with them their cars, their soft drinks, their cigarettes, their smartphones, their exercise habits and their stress. An industry catering to these visitors has developed.

Bapan itself is still quite small and remote, but thousands of Chinese who had no previous roots in the area have moved into greater Bama County to participate in this “health miracle economy.”

As one of the few Westerners, and even fewer Western medical researchers, to have visited before these changes really began to gain ground in the village, I feel exceptionally fortunate to have gotten to know many of Bapan’s residents. We’ve eaten together, worked side by side, and spent countless hours talking about our different lives.

Over time, they’ve come to trust me as a friend, doctor, and researcher. I’ve studied their lives extensively. I’ve translated studies about them that have been published in the Chinese medical literature. My research team has even done genetic testing on many of these centenarians, and when we did, we discovered something fascinating.

The Perfect Experiment

It’s worth noting that the residents of Longevity Village exist as an almost perfect experimental control group, quite ideal for a long-term study where results must be verifiable and extremely reliable. That’s because all of the residents I’ve studied have lived their entire lives within the borders of Bama County.

Additionally, because of the advanced age of these individuals and their history of remaining in one place for so long, variable environmental factors and influences have been kept to a minimum. In other words, the villagers were all essentially exposed to whatever was contributing to their great health and longevity in equal measure.

All too often we see diet and lifestyle studies with follow-up periods ranging anywhere from three weeks to five years, hardly long enough to really learn about long-term health benefits and consequences. Our bodies are incredibly complex machines and, like any machine, there are both short-and long-term effects to every action we take. You simply can’t always infer long-term data from short-term sampling.

That’s what really makes Bapan so remarkable: We can see the lifetime effects of diet and lifestyle choices, because everyone in the village shared those experiences over the course of many, many decades.

Change Your Genes, Change Your Health

Now, for the most part, our genes are quite similar. If you were to pluck up any human from anywhere in the world and compare them to another randomly selected human, you’d find that their genomes are likely to be about 99.5 percent the same.

Does that diversity mean that some of us are genetically destined to live long lives and others not? Not at all. Today we’re learning the impact we can have on our genes is profound. Rather than being stuck with what we’ve inherited from past generations, research shows the expression of our genes can change significantly, and positively, as a result of the decisions we make every day. That’s what we’ve found is happening in Bama County.

Longevity Village Residents Also Have Bad Genes

Preliminary genetic work my team has conducted on six of the centenarians of Bapan has shown that the majority have genes that should predispose them to hypertension, atrial fibrillation, myocardial infarction, hypertriglyceridemia, and hypercholesterolemia. One of the centenarians has gene markers for an increased risk of all five of these conditions. Two of the centenarians have greater than a 120 percent increased risk of developing hypertension, based on what we know about how these genes typically act, yet their blood pressure is remarkably steady.

Our findings are not the exception.  Other studies of people in Bama County have revealed genes that, based on everything we know about genetics, should actually predispose these folks to heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

In one study, researchers found that 516 people from Bama County, all over the age of 90, carried a gene that often results in elevated homocysteine and cholesterol levels leading to heart attacks and dementia. Despite being genetically “programmed” for early heart disease and memory impairment, though, these people showed almost no signs of these diseases.

Perfect Health Despite Bad Genes

In fact, studies of Bama centenarians have shown that even in those over the age of 100, heart disease is only seen in 4 percent. Another study looking at 267 long-lived Bama residents at an average age of 88 could only find one case of dementia. To put these numbers in context, about 85 percent of people over the age of 85 in the U.S. have already developed heart disease, and roughly half of all people in the U.S. age 85 or older have developed dementia.

As it turns out, the only measurable genetic difference between the people in this region who live a long time and those who don’t is something called methylation, a mechanism our cells use to change the way our genes are expressed in response to how we live.  And we know from studies of people from gene pools all across the world that everyone has the ability to positively impact their genomic expression, for good and for ill.

We’ve all known someone, for example, who was gifted in some way but didn’t work to hone that gift, with rather predictable consequences.  We’ve also all heard the inspiring stories of people who are naturally disadvantaged in some way, but are able to overcome that disadvantage through hard work and dedication. That’s how our genes work, too.

Your Genes Are Not Your Destiny

That’s why, after a group of researchers considered the genetic and environmental factors impacting the lives of nearly 3,000 identical and fraternal twins from Denmark, they concluded that “longevity seems to be only moderately heritable.” For women, the researchers concluded, only about 26 percent of longevity was the result of heredity. For men it was about 23 percent. The rest, the scientists concluded, is up to us.

When I came to recognize this, it was exceptionally freeing. For years I’d blamed my health problems on a rather poor draw in the genetic lottery, and in some ways it was true. When I had my DNA analyzed, the lab report was downright depressing.

I carry variations of genes associated with obesity, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and inflammatory arthritis. But what the people of Longevity Village have taught me is that our genes aren’t a prison sentence.

Rather than being genetically destined to live long and healthy lives, it’s quite clear that the people of Bapan have benefitted from lifestyle choices and attitudes that have actuated their genes in ways that have allowed them to thrive to one hundred years of age and longer without medications, surgeries, or doctor visits.

We know this, too, from looking at what happens when people leave the village and significantly alter their lifestyle. When one young man I met left the village to seek work in the city of Guangzhou, for instance, his job in a factory sweatshop and changes in eating habits took an almost immediate toll on his health. After suffering from the effects of stress, a lack of healthful physical activity, a poor diet, air pollution, and weight gain, he decided to return to the village and re-integrate, best he could, with the traditions of his ancestors. His health was remarkably restored within months of his return.

What the Longevity Plan Did for Me

The 7 lessons I learned from China’s Longevity Village have changed my life. I’m no longer taking any of the medicines I once was. I’ve shed 35 pounds. My total cholesterol level has dropped from 211 to 118 and my blood pressure has dropped from 140/90 to 115/70.

More important than those quantitative measurements, though, is this: I’m once again able to pursue activities that helped give my life meaning, like skiing, running, biking, and basketball. Most importantly, I’m no longer haunted by the thought that I might not be around to see my children grow up. I plan to be around to see my grandchildren and great grandchildren, too!

What the Longevity Plan Did for My Patients

These 7 lessons have also changed my patients’ lives. Hundreds of men and women, young and old, who have applied these lessons to their lives are living better, more active, and more fulfilling lives free from medications and without any procedures. Some of their successes make mine look quite unimpressive by comparison. And 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.

What the Longevity Plan Can Do for You

All of that is why I can be very confident in saying that these 7 lessons can change your life, too.  To learn how these 7 lessons can change you life, please be sure to buy your copy of The Longevity Plan now by clicking on this link.

Disclaimer Policy: This website is intended to give general information and does not provide medical advice. This website does not create a doctor-patient relationship between you and Dr. John Day. If you have a medical problem, immediately contact your healthcare provider. Information on this website is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition. Dr. John Day is not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your medical decisions.

  1. I had a gastric bypass nearly 28 years ago. My doctor put me on a 70% protein and 30% vegetable diet. Well, the vegetables didn’t stay on long, but I continued to eat 70% plus protein in my diet. Yesterday, September 4th, I tried “Meatless Monday.” That will be permanent. Thanks for the suggestion.

  2. I was diagnosed with AFIB on regular dr visit about 6 mos ago. No symptoms at time. Feel slight heart racing only about once a month. . Dr put me on Xarelto and sent me to EP dr. Did 30 day monitor that showed AFIB 14% of time. At time of diagnosis I had gained about 10 lbs to 215 lbs and my BP was high and not controlled by my then existing BP medication, likely increased in part by stress over the AFIB diagnosis. Felt terrible then. BP now controlled with medication change (now I take 160 Valsartan in morning and 80 at night) and loss of 15 lbs. to 200. I am 6′ tall. Feel better now. Echo normal. EP dr recommends ablation because no heart damage, early in AFIB, would get me off Multaq (put on after monitor) and might give me opportunity to get off Xarelto. Should I do this? I naturally have concerns, particularly since I do not have obvious heart racing symptoms. Is AFIB always progressive (so my 14% will increase and better to eliminate if I can at my age, 65, instead of later)? Do my lack of obvious AFIB symptoms make a difference? Sorry for all of the questions and thanks for any guidance you can provide ASAP.

    • Hi Jeff,

      Congratulations on the weight loss! That is probably the best thing you can do for your Afib, high blood pressure, and just about everything else you may be struggling with!

      Ablation and long-term blood thinners are best decided by you and your electrophysiologist.

      With aggressive lifestyle changes, Afib doesn’t have to be progressive. Indeed, half of all people with this condition can put their Afib into remission, without drugs or procedures, just by getting back to a healthy weight.

      Many people don’t feel their Afib. For these people, it is important to track your pulse.

      Hope this helps!


  3. I will be ordering this book! The information about Longevity Village sounds a lot like the Blue Zones Dan Buttoner writes about, I can’t wait to explore this information further!

    • Hi Barbara,

      Thanks for ordering Longevity Plan! I hope it changes your life. Please drop me a line and let me know what you think of the book.

      Warm regards,


  4. Dr. Day,
    I just finished reading your book. I am an OB/GYN in Pennsylvania and have read many books, diets, blogs. What a great story. And no crap! If you want to live to be 100, it takes work, commitment, and I loved the end of your book where you say..Simplicity. We all know the crazy things that are literally killing us, but do them anyway for so many bad reasons.
    Great book, great message, and a simple plan to follow. The hard part is keeping up with it. My mentor, Robin Sharma says “small daily improvement over time lead to stunning results”. Your book, thoughts, ideas and your vignettes about your dealings with patients have given me even more inspiration to discuss the real health benefits with my patients. Great job!
    Scott Dinesen

    • Hi Scott,

      Thank you so much for your kind words! I am so pleased to hear that this book has inspired you in your own medical practice!

      Warm regards,


  5. What Dr. Day talks about is exactly what happened to me, only Dr. Day caught it in time. I unfortunately did not; however I changed the direction my health was headed by using lifestyle change. I am no longer diabetic and have changed my life. We need more doctor’s like Dr. Day that use something besides medication to give people true health. Thanks Dr. Day I applaud what you are doing and hope it helps people improve their quality of life.