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Meet Dr. John Day: Author of The Longevity Plan

Dr. John Day is a cardiologist and the author of The Longevity Plan, an exploration of the time he spent in China’s Longevity Village, a region famed for its residents’ long and healthy lifespans. Our team was excited to speak with Dr. John about the insights he learned from the Longevity Village, and the daily tweaks we can make in our own routines to live the lives we want, no matter our age. 

Can you tell us about your background in aging research?

John: I’m a cardiologist and I specialize in heart rhythm abnormalities. I’ve also written a book called The Longevity Plan. I got into studying longevity as an accident. I’ve always been a fitness nut, but 10 years ago I realized I wasn’t in balance. I had this idea that as long as I exercised hard, I could eat as much as I wanted, sleep as little as I wanted, be stressed, and still be very healthy. But by age 40 my own personal health started to suffer from this approach – I had an autoimmune disorder, I was overweight, I had food allergies. I was a mess.

I speak fluent Chinese so I frequently travel to China for medical conferences and I have developed a number of close friends there. They told me about the Longevity Belt, a region in Southwest China with the highest percentage of centenarians in the world. I started a five year project where I would take my family to the Longevity Villages to interview these centenarians and find out what their secret sauce was, and that’s where the book came from.

What was an ah-ha moment for you in this research?

You might naturally assume that if you have this rural, isolated zone with lots of healthy older people that it would have to be genetics that helps these people live so long. But our first ah-ha moment was that when we did a genetic analysis, the villagers’ genes were no different than ours. We identified genes in this group that coded for Alzheimers, dementia, cancer, and diabetes, but the villagers weren’t experiencing them. Even though they had genes that should have resulted in health issues, they weren’t. By optimizing your lifestyle you may be able to suppress genes that might otherwise code for chronic medical conditions.

The average person has genes that can allow us to live to age 90 in good health. Lifestyle issues along the way complicate this.

How can we combat some of those lifestyle issues?

We identified five key areas:

  1. Optimize your nutrition for a healthy body weight.
  2. Be physically active every day. This doesn’t mean an extreme workout — just a little bit of motion every day, balanced with some more intensive moments of physical activity.
  3. Get enough sleep.
  4. Optimize your stress levels.
  5. Optimize your relationships. Loneliness is a bigger risk factor for early death than cigarettes or obesity. Have strong relationships, however you want to interpret this. I think of it as someone who is there for you, who cares for you, who you can rely on.

What’s one tip you can share on living Boldly?

Have purpose — ask yourself why do I want to get healthy? Why do I want to live longer? And then optimize your environment to make the best choices, and have accountability for your actions to help you get there.