10 Tips For a Healthy Life From The World’s Oldest Person

Deep in the heart of Japan’s countryside lived the oldest person in the world.  His name was Jiroemon Kimura and on Wednesday, he died at 116.

I had a chance to meet Kimura on the brink of his 115th birthday in a tucked away seaside village of southern Japan, a half-day journey by train from Kyoto City.

This pristine region called Kyotango, bordered by jade coastlines foaming onto pine-blanketed hills, was home to a startling number of human beings who had stood the test of time. In Kyotango alone, there were 54 centenarians, three times the national average in a country already renowned for longevity.  These old, resilient souls were scurrying down narrow cobbled streets, napping under the heavy weight of futon blankets, even karaoking at the corner bar.oldest person

Since that day, I still hear my conversation with Kimura jostling around in my head, surprised to find myself carrying around its wisdom like a handy pocketbook on life.

In memory of a man who spread happiness from his remote corner in the world, I recount ten things Jiroemon Kimura taught me about living long and living well.

1.     Exercise Every Single Day

Kimura claimed his secret to longevity was exercising everyday.  “It’s important to make daily exercise a discipline, “ he said.  “A habit.

Kimura kept this habit well into 100s.  When his legs grew too weak after 110, he did a hundred bicycle motions each day while lying on his back.  At 114, he still took time each day to wiggle his hands and legs repetitively, always making sure his muscles stayed active.

2.     Eat Small Portions

The Japanese have a saying : hara hachibunme. (eat until you’re 80% full). Kimura lived by this philosophy, preaching his self-made slogan of “eat less and live long.”  Pacing himself with small portions paid off.  At nearly 115, he still enjoyed a good appetite and ate whatever he wanted. He took no medication at all.

3.     Let Adversity Make You Strong

When something unexpected happened and things didn’t go the way he wished them to, Kimura said he reminded himself that the experience, “is good for you, it helps you grow.”

No matter how hard things got, he said he faced difficulties with “endurance and perseverance.” He told people to never let worry or suffering consume them because “after every storm, peace always comes.”

Kimura had a philosophical context that allowed him to accept adversity without feeling as though his world is being threatened, according to John Daishin Buksbazen, a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with a Psy D. from Southern California Psychoanalytic Institute.  When people see adversity as a challenge that they can work with and eventually overcome, they have better outcomes. With repeated practice, the neural pathways associated with this calm kind of coping can be reinforced and become more intuitive, tending to arise when adversity is encountered again.

4.     Read the News Everyday

Kimura’s favorite part of the day was after breakfast, when he read the newspaper with a magnifying glass for two or three hours.  He also enjoyed following congressional debates on television.  In a 2009 interview with Yomiuri Online Kimura said he believed it is important for a person keep up with the times.

Reading the news and comprehending complex issues not only exercises the brain, according to Buksbazen, but also creates a sense of belonging to the larger world and to the human race, keeping loneliness and boredom at bay.

5.     Eliminate Strong Preferences

It was impossible to get Kimura to name a favorite anything.

Favorite food? “Everything.” he smiled.

Favorite memory? “Many things, whatever came my way.”

What do you love about Kyotango? “Nothing in particular!”

What are you most thankful for? “I would say everything.”

Kimura lived in a world free of likes and dislikes.  Yet rather than being an empty person devoid of interests, Kimura exuded a rare fullness, brimming with the humanity and passion that comes from being open to all things.

In Zen philosophy, which underlies Japanese culture, the Faith-Mind Sutra teaches that “the Great Way is not difficult; it only avoids picking and choosing.  But make even the slightest distinction, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.”

By not choosing favorites, Kimura seemed to have mastered the art of ‘taking his life as it comes.’

6.     Live Without Attachment

Kimura lived to see the span of three centennials and four emperors.  He outlived his wife, two children and a grandson. So what keeps him motivated to live?

Everything,” he said. “But it’s impossible to pinpoint.  If you try to do that, you will lose hope and the world can be a dark place”.

We often search for certain things in life to live for – our child, our partner, our craft, our mission. But having seen the ebb and flow of life, the mutability of our earthly prized possessions, Kimura learned to not attach his life to any one particular thing and instead draw from all things as a whole.

Kimura’s non-attachment kept him from being devastated by grief, a significant factor in differentiating him from a person who ages more rapidly, according to Buksbazen. It is not that he did not mourn for the deceased family members or belongings, but by not being attached to their inevitable mortality, he was able to let go.

In essence, Kimura did not search for a reason to live – for living itself became its own reason.

7.     Stay Close to Nature

Born into a farming family, Kimura and his seven siblings grew up touching the earth.   Kimura worked in a post office for 38 years and returned to farming after retirement until he was 90 years old.  Even in his 100s, he continued to take long daily walks and do some weeding.

Besides providing fresh air and vigorous exercise, farming is all about producing life and seeing the physical results of your work, according to Buksbazen.  This brings forth enormous gratification.  People who work in an office shuffling papers often do not get to see the results of their work.  Farming can also become a type of meditative practice, helping to calm the mind and live for the present.

8.     Have Gratitude

“It’s not me,” Kimura insisted, when people marveled at his age. “I could not make it on my own strength. It is because of strength of everyone around me.”

Kimura embodied Kansha, meaning gratitude, a core value in Japanese culture.  To anyone he came in contact with — his family, the caretaker, a visitor — he clasped his hands in prayer and bowed with sincerity, a touching display of gratitude so rare in today’s age it almost felt like a lost art.

Gratitude, especially when part of a daily practice, is associated with the release in the body of serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine, all of which have significant roles in cardiac and mental health, according to Buksbazen.

9.     Laugh Often

Kimura was a concentrated dose of the human spirit and had a deep-bellied, contagious laugh.  It was impossible not to smile around him.

“I choose to spend my life with as much cheerfulness as possible,” said Kimura, whose stories of adversity were peppered with a hearty sense of humor.

Dr. William Fry of Stanford University has studied the effects of laughter for thirty years and compares it to “inner jogging,” claiming that laughing 100 times a day is as beneficial as ten minutes of rowing.  A good laugh can boost the immune system, relax the muscles, and improve mental functions such as memory and creativity. Which makes it no surprise that frequent laughter is a common personality trait among centenarians, according to a 2012 study at Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University.

10.  Break Life Up Into Small Parts

Kimura said he woke up each morning and wished that it would be a good day, never imagining the days would add up to his title of oldest living man.

In the 2009 interview with Mainichi Shinbun, Kimura said that on his 90th birthday, he set a goal to reach the age of 100.  Once he turned 100, his new goal was to reach 110.  The reporter asked if, now that he was 110, he planned on reaching 120.

Kimura laughed and said, “That might be a stretch.”

One of the things that make people overwhelmed when they are in a challenging situation is that they try to handle it all at once, which releases huge amounts of stress chemicals, according to Bukszaben. Breaking things up into small steps relieves much of this stress and makes them feel more conquerable.  It keeps us in the present.  It helps us achieve great things.

My talk with Kimura came to an end and he thanked us for coming, saying what a waste it must have been for us to travel so far just to see him.  I stood in awe of Kimura’s energy, how it seemed to burst from some infinite inner geyser, too powerful to be held back by the realities of an aging body.  As the nurse led him out, I told him that although he had lived a long life, he still seemed very young.

He turned around and quipped like a confident athlete headed to a race, “This is just the beginning!”

Kimura left behind a trail of laughter in the room and a reminder to us all that life — as I’ve once heard it put — is but “an endless unfolding.”  That we are never too old for new beginnings.

Re-posted from http://northhollywood.patch.com/groups/eminas-blog/p/10-tips-for-a-healthy-life-from-the-worlds-oldest-person

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Strength in What Remains

I just finished reading “Strength in What Remains” by Tracy Kidder, the author of “Mountains beyond mountains”. I highly recommend this book as it refers to both African (Burundi) and American (New York City) cultures. The plot:strengthinwhatremains

“The son of a poor Tutsi farmer in Burundi, third-year medical student Deogratias barely escapes the carnage when genocidal conflict between Hutus and Tutsis spreads from neighboring Rwanda in 1993. He flees to the United States with the help of a wealthy friend, but what he finds is a far cry from the American Dream. With only $200 in his pocket and little knowledge of English, Deo takes a menial job delivering groceries on Park Avenue for $15 per day and sleeps in Central Park at night. He is unexpectedly taken in by a generous couple and finishes college and medical school, but, dually haunted and motivated by the violence he left behind, Deo joins Partners in Health and courageously returns to Burundi to establish a free clinic.”

Book Quotes:

It is hard to blame people who were slaughtering each other. Burundi’s kings. Didn’t blame only Tutsi, Rwanda and Burundi. Misled by selfish elites, they were victims of power as to survive. Not to divide into bad and good guys.

I trained my mind to be flexible. Be willing to know that even if you think you know for sure, leave room for uncertainty.

You may not see the ocean, but right now we are in the middle of the ocean, and we have to keep swimming.

I do believe in God. I think God has given so much power to people, and intelligence, and said, ‘Well, you are on your own. Maybe I’m tired, I need a nap. You are mature. Why don’t you look after yourselves?’ And I think He’s been sleeping too much.

So many people, he thought, don’t listen to the content of what you say but only to the noises you make.

He sniffed, and said as others had before him and others no doubt would again, “I have learned never to say, ‘Never again.”

In order to go on with our lives, we are always capable of making the ominous into the merely strange.

The person who agrees with you all the time is no necessarily your friend.

You can always learn something good in the hard time if you survive it…

No math formula to achieve what you want, just trial and error.

The Reading Guide:

The Reading Guide below is supplied by the book’s publisher, and plot points may be revealed. We recommend that read the book before reading the guide.

1. Tracy Kidder gets his title, Strength in What Remains, from a poem by William Wordsworth; the passage is included at the beginning of the book. What did the poem mean to you before reading Strength in What Remains? Did the meaning of the poem change after you read the book? If so, how?

2. While making his escape to the United States, Deo views New York as a land of promise and opportunity. But when he is first in New York, living in Harlem and then Central Park, he feels lonelier than ever before. He thinks, “It was clear that to be a New Yorker could mean so many things that it meant practically nothing at all” (p. 32). What does he mean by this? How does his opinion of New York— and thus the United States— change over the course of the book?

3. Deo realizes that he is in the “bottom to that near- bottom” (p. 22) of the social hierarchy in New York, yet he makes certain that no one observes him entering Central Park at a late hour, as he does not want to be labeled homeless. What do these two facts, along with his initial struggles to adjust to and learn about urban American life, tell you about Deo’s character? Can you imagine yourself feeling as he does or do you think his reaction is simply “Burundian”?

4. Kidder writes, “When Deo first told me about his beginnings in New York, I had a simple thought: ‘I would not have survived’ ” (p. 161). Do you think you could have survived what Deo survived? Why or why not?

5. How do Deo’s experiences on the run in Burundi compare to his experiences in New York City? What are the common themes? How do the dangers differ? How does human compassion figure in these two journeys?

6. From the moment Deo arrives in New York, he finds people who are willing to help him. Discuss the ways in which Muhammad the baggage handler, Sharon, Nancy and Charlie, and James O’Malley helped Deo get on his feet. What do you think it was about Deo that compelled these people to help him? What was it about them? Would he have survived without them?

7. Paul Farmer is another person who has had a large influence on Deo. Describe Deo’s relationship with Farmer and the ways in which they change each other’s lives.

8. While a student at Columbia, Deo recalls that in Burundi, he “had seen people pushed away from hospitals, not only when they had no money, but sometimes just because they were dirty and smelled bad. Now news that a relative was ill would keep him worrying for days, imagining that his mother or a sibling might even now be receiving such treatment” (p. 109). What does this statement tell you about Deo’s thoughts and goals while studying biochemistry at Columbia? Why do you think Deo maintained this perspective? How does this sentiment complement, reflect, or contrast with the views and concerns of Paul Farmer or of Partners in Health?

9. While Deo is working with Farmer and Joia Mukherjee at Partners in Health in Boston, Joia remarks, “Offensive things are so offensive to him. Understandably. It’s just like he has no skin. Everything just penetrates so much” (p. 156). What does Joia mean by this? Do her words ring true?

10. Throughout his life, Deo struggles to trust himself, other people, and even God. As he tours Columbia with Kidder in 2006, he says, “I do believe in God. I think God has given so much power to people, and intelligence, and said, ‘Well, you are on your own. Maybe I’m tired, I need a nap. You are mature. Why don’t you look after yourselves?’ And I think he’s been sleeping too much” (p. 186). Discuss this quote in relation to Deo’s views on faith.

11. The power of memory is a theme that runs throughout the book. In the Introduction, Deo explains that people in the Western world try to remember the tragedies of their pasts, while people in Burundi try to forget them. Trace Deo’s evolution as he journeys from Burundi to Rwanda to the United States and back again, focusing on the changing role memory plays in his life.

12. Joia makes an interesting point about how different people deal with horrible experiences like genocide. Her own father, having survived massacres during the partition of India, refused to talk about what he saw. Instead, he lived a life of hypochondria, always fearing that death was just around the corner. Deo eventually “let it spew out all the time” (p. 157), while an Auschwitz survivor Kidder meets also chose silence until he reached old age. The survivor tells Kidder, “The problem is, once you start talking it’s very difficult to stop. It’s almost impossible to stop” (p. 160). Discuss the values and weaknesses of each coping strategy. Do you think we have control over how we process our memories and guilt?

13. Toward the end of the book, as Kidder reflects on what he has seen and learned through Deo, he thinks about the value of “flush[ing] out and dissect[ing] one’s memories” (as Westerners are prone to do) and wonders whether there is such a thing as “too much remembering, that too much of it could suffocate a person, and indeed a culture” (p. 248). After reading Deo’s story, what do you think? Do you agree that “there was something to be said for a culture with a word like gusimbura” (p. 248)? Why or why not?

14. In Burundi, village elders would say, “When too much is too much or too bad is too bad, we laugh as if it was too good” (p. 36). What does this saying mean? How can it be applied to Deo’s upbringing? How does its meaning affect Deo’s views, particularly toward American life?

15. Deo relates that in Burundi, people’s names tell stories, or serve as social commentary about the circumstances of the person’s birth or social position. These names, he says, are amazina y’ikuzo, “names for growth” (p. 34). Why is this concept so important in Burundian society? Are the names of the Burundian individuals to whom Kidder introduces us accurate?

16. Against his family’s wishes, Deo returns to Burundi often after his initial escape. Why does he go back so many times? Discuss the relationship he has with the people of his country, and why he tells Kidder that no matter how tempting, he cannot “reject all the obli – gations of family, and even of affection, and . . . become a loner in the world, never setting foot in one’s old life” (p. 208).

17. When Deo was first in New York, Kidder writes, “He told himself, ‘No one is in control of his own life’ ” (p. 164). Do you believe no one is in control of his own life? Do you think Deo believes it, at the end of Kidder’s book?

18. Deo accomplishes the seemingly impossible, working with Paul Farmer and Partners in Health to set up his dream clinic in Kigutu in 2008. The clinic has become “a place of reconciliation for everyone, including [Deo].” As he tells a woman who comes to the clinic and apologizes to him for what he assumes is violence against his family during the war: “What happened happened. Let’s work on the clinic. Lets put this tragedy behind us, because remembering is not going to benefit anyone” (p. 259). How does Deo reach this point in his life? What do you think is next for him?

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