When Dr. John Day first heard about a remote Chinese village where the residents — despite having few modern amenities — suffered virtually none of the diseases associated with getting old, he was rightfully skeptical.
“They don’t have doctors, medications or hospitals, yet the villagers live these remarkably healthy lives,” Day tells The Post. “It challenged everything I thought about aging.”
Day, a Salt Lake City-based cardiologist, had been studying the Chinese language as a hobby for some 25 years. In 2012, his China-based Mandarin coach mentioned a recent documentary profiling a town with “magical properties” known as “Longevity Village.”
It’s called Bapan, located in the southwest of China near the Vietnamese border, and there, nearly 1 in every 100 people is over 100 years old, compared to 1 in 5,780 in the United States.
These centenarians, however, are not wasting away, bedridden. They’re active, happy and healthy.
Day was immediately intrigued — enough to visit in summer 2012. He’s been back nearly every year since, learning from the residents about their fountain-of-youth lifestyle. (One man he befriended was born in 1898.) Day has poured his findings into the new book he co-authored, “The Longevity Plan: Seven Life-Transforming Lessons from Ancient China.”
Day has been able to apply these lessons to his patients’ lives — as well as to his own.
“Sooner or later the standard American diet, or ‘SAD’ diet, as I call it, catches up with you,” Day says. “For me, it all seemed to hit in my early 40s. Almost overnight, I was on five prescription drugs, had an autoimmune disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, was overweight.”
Now 50, Day has shed 35 pounds, his cholesterol has dropped nearly 100 points and he no longer suffers from acid reflux and a host of other conditions.
Many of his patients who have adopted the lifestyle have banished obesity, insomnia, high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure.
The Longevity Village has achieved a small degree of fame within China, but its residents don’t seem to have been impressed by the attention.
“I asked the local mayor about it, and he said that growing up, they never knew this place was special,” Day says. “They thought it was just the way it was.”
Ready to apply the lessons of a remote rural Asian village to your own life? Here are seven tips.
1. Eat real food
“We really don’t realize what processed food and added sugars are doing to our lives,” Day says.
The Bapan residents subsist on a diet consisting mostly of fresh fruit and vegetables (three times more veggies than fruit), roots, legumes and nuts. They eat fish occasionally and meat only on special occasions.
Day enjoyed a meal consisting of corn porridge, boiled pumpkin, an assortment of greens stir-fried with garlic and shredded potatoes tossed with rice-wine vinegar.
2. Change your attitude
The Bapan residents have been through wars and famines, yet somehow they maintain a positive outlook.
“One of the biggest struggles of modern life is our stress and anxiety levels,” Day says. “It wrecks relationships and our sleep.”
Stress is a contributing factor to heart conditions in some 70 percent of Day’s patients.
“The key is to embrace stress,” Day says. “Studies show that if people can learn to embrace and accept the challenge, that they live longer than people who report low levels of stress. The [Longevity Village residents] all told me they were living the best years of their lives and they believed tomorrow would be even better than today. There’s a lesson for all of us.”
3. Connect with others
“There are studies that show that being connected socially to the right people, having a support network in place in life, may be more important to your longevity than smoking or obesity,” Day says.
The village residents look after one another, sharing food with those who have none, for example. Day recounts walking down a road and coming across an elderly woman shoveling concrete to help a relative fix a house. Villagers live with multiple generations of family and often eat every meal together. This connectivity makes people happy and healthier.
“When your life is important for others and their lives are important for you, then you are very rich,” one woman told Day.
4. Stay in motion
That doesn’t just mean hitting the gym occasionally, but trying to build a life in which you’re rarely sitting still. Bapan residents stay fit by working in the fields. Few even own couches.
Not possible for many Americans with desk jobs, but Day suggests working from a standing or treadmill desk. Take the stairs. Go for a walk after a meal. Add a putting green to your living room.
5. Stick to a schedule
Bapan residents wake up, eat and go to bed at the same time every day. Abiding by a strict schedule simplifies life and promotes balance, Day writes.
The practice also helps us get enough sleep, a critical component of good health. Getting too little affects the expression of 700 critical genes, which control metabolism and fight infection, among other functions.
6. Purify your environment
“Clean air, food and water are important,” Day says. And the Bapan residents, because the village is so isolated, have lived lives mostly free of modern-day contaminants, including pesticides, harsh cleaning agents and other chemical pollutants.
The interior air of the average American home can be two to five times more polluted than the outdoors. Use air filters, clean with natural products, keep air-filtering plants and buy organic rugs and furniture that have fewer potentially harmful volatile organic compounds than regular furniture.
Also try to cut down on clutter, which leads to stress.
7. Have a passion
It could be a hobby or working well into your golden years. We humans needs something that motivates us each day, especially during old age, when many people feel unneeded. The villagers constantly have something that occupies their attention, even if that focus changes over the years from a job to caring for a family member, for example.
“I may be 108 years old, but I still have many things I’d like to do,” the woman who volunteered as the town greeter told Day.
“Having a strong sense of purpose has been shown to prevent plaque from building up in our hearts and brains and keeps blood clots from forming,” Day writes.