Longevity Village



Longevity Village 1

I just read The Longevity Plan: Seven Life-Transforming Lessons from Ancient China by Dr John D. Day, his wife Jane Ann Day, and Matthew LaPlante. It is a fascinating and informative read. It is about the village of Bapan in southwest China, near the border with Vietnam. This village has the largest concentration of centenarians in the world. Normally that distinction is given to Okinawa, but I think Bapan gets overlooked because it is a smaller population (or sample size, in scientific parlance). It is becoming well known in China, however, where it has the nickname longevity village. People now travel there from other parts of China to try to learn longevity secrets.

Dr. Day was a physician approaching middle age and burnout when he learned of this village. He was working long hours, not able to spend enough time with his family, and eating poorly because he always felt on the run. Visiting Bapan and meeting its incredible elders was the catalyst for turning his own life and health around. He speaks fluent Mandarin so was able to communicate well in this isolated location. He and his wife absolutely fell in love with this village and its people, and the stories in the book are compiled from multiple visits.

Bapan is in a beautiful rural area. The villagers have for centuries followed traditional ways, which include lots of activity growing their own food, a very healthy diet, and a healthy outlook on life. Their lifestyle and diet is similar to that of the populations in other “blue zones” (regions of exceptional longevity) around the world. Their eating is mostly plant-based, including lots of sweet potatoes and a wide variety of vegetables and fruits, and brown rice. While their consumption of animal foods is a small percentage of their diet, they do eat fish caught in the pristine river that flows past the village. The fish are described as a small oily fish similar to sardines. Dr. Day does not give an exact analysis, but apparently they are a good source of healthy fat. The villagers eat no dairy, and very little meat, for an interesting reason. Over the centuries marauding armies would sometimes pass through the area, and would confiscate any animals. So they simply gave up on keeping animals.

Their lifestyle is active because they farm the land. Their activity seems to be long hours at lower intensity with some pretty high intensity thrown in. There is an amusing example of that in the book. Dr. Day is interviewing one of the elders while she is harvesting some produce from her land, She has filled up a big sack to carry back up a steep hill to her home. He cannot resist the impulse to be a gentleman and offer to carry it for her. He immediately regrets his decision when he picks it up and sees how heavy it is!

Longevity Village 2

By far the most enjoyable part of the book was the stories about several of the centenarians. They have had various hardships in their lives, but have weathered them, always with an upbeat attitude. They definitely go with the flow, sometimes reinventing their purpose in life several times, as life changes in major ways. They all seem to remain vibrant and healthy until very near the end of life.

The book explains many ways people in the modern world can learn from the elders of Bapan and adopt elements of their lifestyle.