Lessons from Longevity Village, Where Living Past 100 is the Norm

Dr. John Day explains the health benefits of following the Longevity diet

American cardiologist Dr. John Day had an epiphany at age 44 when he learned about a remote village in rural China known as Longevity Village, famed for its high numbers of centenarians. His research into their lifestyle has culminated in The Longevity Plan, a blueprint for living well and thriving with advancing age. Parvati Magazine spoke with Dr. Day to learn more about these principles.

Parvati Magazine: At the heart of The Longevity Plan, with its seven core principles, is simplicity. Tell us more about this.

John Day: Optimizing for health and longevity really comes down to just doing a few simple things right. For example, eating right can be so confusing. Everyone seems to say something different. However, research tells us that any ancestral diet that avoids sugar and processed foods is conducive to a long and healthy diet. If a food product has an ingredient list or even a “healthy food label”, then it probably isn’t helping you optimize for health and longevity. Real food doesn’t require an ingredient list or any label.

Another example is exercise. To optimize for health and longevity you don’t need fancy machines or a physical trainer. I’m certainly not opposed to those things if they help you, but you can also accomplish the same thing outside your door with a simple pair of athletic shoes. As long as you can find something you enjoy and can break a sweat daily, you are 90% of the way there. In China’s Longevity Village, people simply don’t exercise the way we do in the West. Rather, they are physically active throughout the day.

The secret to longevity: a sense of purpose?

Parvati Magazine: Despite living in very basic environments and working hard for most of their lives, the people in Longevity Village embodied a sense of fulfillment. Tell us more about this powerful lesson in terms of the choices we make.

John Day: Study after study has demonstrated that your purpose in life plays a significant role in your health and longevity. In Longevity Village, every centenarian we studied had a strong sense of purpose. Throughout their lives, they worked hard in the fields to make sure their family survived. At age 100 plus, they were living the best years of their lives despite still working seven days a week. Even though they could no longer do hand farming, they met with visitors from throughout China and shared their wisdom. Every centenarian was living in a four or five generational home. Each of them felt like their family depended on them still for their survival. This sense of contribution gave them fulfillment and purpose.

The power of community

Parvati Magazine: The importance of community is increasingly being recognized in promoting longevity. What is necessary to find or achieve the community that you saw in Longevity Village and reproduce this in our Western society?

John Day: Social connectivity often is an under-recognized longevity factor. Even though we now live in a hyperconnected world with social media, instant messaging, etc., we are more socially disconnected than ever. Many studies have shown that loneliness may be a bigger predictor of a premature death than either smoking or obesity.

In Longevity Village, everyone was connected. The villagers would band together, help each other out and make sure everyone had enough to eat and had a roof over their heads. Certainly, modern society is engineered differently but the principles still apply. You could break down the village concept to wherever you live. If you live in an apartment building in New York City, you could start with regular building meet-ups or potluck dinners. In a suburban setting, local dinners could accomplish the same thing. With communication, text messaging or email can never replace the benefit of face-to-face communication.

The optimal environment for longevity

Parvati Magazine: The people of this remote village live in harmony with their environment.

John Day: When it comes to optimizing your environment, the people living in Longevity Village understood that everything around them contributes to health or disease. While clean water, food, and air are all important, there are other aspects to environment as well. Environment also includes noise pollution, and finding a daily rhythm aligned with the seasons. Green space is also important. Time in nature has been shown to contribute to health and longevity. The people in Longevity Village worked in the garden regularly, foraged for wild vegetables and fruit, or even hiked nearby mountains. They were at one with the land, and the land sustained them through civil war, the Chinese Revolution, and failed economic policies that left much of China in starvation.

Dr. John Day is a cardiologist and medical director of heart rhythm specialists at Intermountain Medical Centre in Salt Lake City, Utah. He currently serves as the Utah governor of the American College of Cardiology. He has published more than one hundred medical studies and lectures widely.