Japanese doctor who lived to 105—his spartan diet, views on retirement, and other rare longevity tips

CNBC:

Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara had an extraordinary life for many reasons. For starters, the Japanese physician and longevity expert lived until the age of 105.

When he died, in 2017, Hinohara was chairman emeritus of St. Luke’s International University and honorary president of St. Luke’s International Hospital, both in Tokyo.

Perhaps best known for his book, “Living Long, Living Good,” Hinohara offered advice that helped make Japan the world leader in longevity. Some were fairly intuitive points, while others were less obvious:

1. Don’t retire. But if you must, do so a lot later than age 65.

The average retirement age, at least in the U.S., has always hovered at around 65. And, in recent years, many have embraced the FIRE movement (Financial Independence, Retire Early).

But Hinohara viewed things differently. “There is no need to ever retire, but if one must, it should be a lot later than 65,” he said in a 2009 interview with The Japan Times. “The current retirement age was set at 65 half a century ago, when the average life expectancy in Japan was 68 years and only 125 Japanese were over 100 years old.”

Today, he explained, people are living a lot longer. The life expectancy for U.S. in 2020, for example, is 78.93 years, a 0.08% increase from 2019. Therefore, we should be retiring much later in life, too.

Hinohara certainly practiced what he preached: Until a few months before his death, he continued to treat patients, kept an appointment book with space for five more years, and worked up to 18 hours a day.

2. Take the stairs (and keep your weight in check).

Hinohara emphasized the importance of regular exercise. “I take two stairs at a time, to get my muscles moving,” he said.

He carried his own packages and luggage, and gave 150 lectures a year, usually speaking for 60 to 90 minutes — all done standing, he said, “to stay strong.”

Hinohara pointed out that people who live an extremely long life have a commonality: They aren’t overweight. Indeed, obesity is widely considered one of the most significant risk factors for increased morbidity and mortality.

Hinohara’s diet was spartan: “For breakfast, I drink coffee, a glass of milk and some orange juice with a tablespoon of olive oil in it.” (Studies have found that olive oil offers numerous health benefits, such as keeping your arteries clean and lowering heart disease risk.)

“Lunch is milk and a few cookies, or nothing when I am too busy to eat,” he continued. “I never get hungry because I focus on my work. Dinner is veggies, a bit of fish and rice, and, twice a week, 100 grams of lean meat.”

3. Find a purpose that keeps you busy.

According to Hinohara, not having a full schedule is a surefire way to age faster and die sooner. However, it’s important to stay busy not just for the sake of staying busy, but to be active in activities that help serve a purpose. (The logic is that one can be busy, yet still feel empty and idle on the inside.)

Hinohara found his purpose early on, after his mother’s life was saved by the family’s doctor.

Janit Kawaguchi, a journalist who considered Hinohara a mentor, said, “He believed that life is all about contribution, so he had this incredible drive to help people, to wake up early in the morning and do something wonderful for other people. This is what was driving him and what kept him living.”

“It’s wonderful to live long,” Hinohara said in the interview. “Until one is 60 years old, it is easy to work for one’s family and to achieve one’s goals. But in our later years, we should strive to contribute to society. Since the age of 65, I have worked as a volunteer. I still put in 18 hours seven days a week and love every minute of it.”

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