Formula For A Long Happy Life

November 12, 2012

Formula For A Long Happy Life

Shigeaki Hinohara is fast approaching his one hundredth year, and the 98 year old Japanese physician and teacher still holds down numerous roles and positions. He works seven days a week for 18 hours a day and remains on the boards of two medical institutions regarded as amongst the best in Japan. St. Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo and St. Luke’s College of Nursing work together to produce a center of excellence. It was with his help and vision that these institutions were formed following the years of World War Two and it was his enthusiasm, skill and drive that has made them into world class establishments. He also notes that his business acumen and pioneering spirit also contributed. Everyday brings a new challenge for him and now he has founded a group dedicated to the aged. His New Elderly Movement gives itself the challenge to encourage others to be happy and live long and fruitful lives. Perhaps this is just the mantra by which the good doctor lives his own life. Since his seventy fifth birthday he has written and published about 150 books. One of them “Living Long, Living Good” was a best seller and more than 1.2 million copies were sold. Hinohara believes that eating well and getting enough sleep is not of paramount importance in life. He thinks that feeling good is what generates energy within us. He points out that as youngsters when we were having fun it was easy to forget to eat or sleep, he says that it should remain this way as we grow up. He says not to limit the body with rules about eating and sleeping. He also points out that of all the people he is aware of who have lived long lives; they have one thing in common. They are not fat or overweight. His eating habits are frugal too. For breakfast Hinohara has a coffee, milk and orange juice with a spoonful of olive oil in it. He likes his olive oil and says that it helps his arteries and skin to remain in good physical shape. Often he will skip lunch altogether but when he does eat it is only a few cookies and a glass of milk. He says that because he has focus and thinks of nothing except his work he does not become hungry. For his evening meal he takes vegetables with some rice and perhaps fish, and he will eat a little lean meat two times a week.

Another of his secrets is to always plan ahead. Already he is thinking forward to 2016 when the Olympics are in Tokyo. But his work diary is full until 2014 too, with routine hospital work and giving lectures. Each lecture is between one hour and an hour and a half and the audience can be from school children to business people. The lecture may be in a school room with 100 pupils or large hall with 4,500 adults but Hinohara insists on standing because he says that it keeps him strong. He carries out these lectures because he believes that it’s important to give something back as we travel through life.

Of retirement he says, “Why?” and elaborates that the Japanese system of retirement at 65 was introduced 50 years ago when average life expectancy was only 3 years after the retirement age. At that time Japan had 125 people who had lived more than 100 years, today that figure is 36,000 and average life spans are estimated to be 86 for women and 80 for men. He thinks within 20 years Japan will have over 50,000 centenarians.

Although Hinohara has a very positive view on life he is also a realist. He says that doctors cannot cure everybody and that they should be challenged whenever any form of treatment is suggested. He says to ask whether the doctor would recommend such an action if it was going to happen to their family members. He acknowledges that there is a time to stop the pain and suffering that some treatments generate. He is also alternative in that he proposes music and animal therapy as options and says that he believes that these options work better than many doctors accept.

He always works at staying fit and healthy and always takes the stairs and carries his own bits and pieces around. He says that he likes to step up two stairs at a time to “get my muscles moving”.

He talks of pain as being mysterious and suggests that having fun is the best way to remove pain. Recounting stories of when children had toothache and then a game started and they became involved and then the pain disappeared for as long as the child was having fun. He says that hospitals should tune in to this as part of their role in catering for patients, at his hospital patients can have art classes or take some music or animal therapy.

When talking about hospitals he says that they should be designed to cope with major disasters and never turn any patients away at times like this. St Luke’s was designed in this manner, and he says that people can be treated in any part of the hospital whether it is the corridors, the chapel or the basement. And his idea was shown to be effective when the Tokyo subway was attacked with sarin gas in 1995. A group of terrorists with leanings towards a cult movement, Aum Shinrikyu released the chemical underground.

The hospital received 740 victims and realized within 2 hours that they were dealing with a sarin gas attack. Only one patient succumbed to the gas and died and everyone else who attended the hospital was saved.

He also talks of science and says that science alone cannot help or treat people. He tells us that we are all unique and diverse and we must know that illness is equally unique to each person, even though science thinks of all humans as the same. He says that to help people then medical skills in addition to liberal and visual arts are needed.

He also cautions not to be too guided by the material world and says that, “when your number is up, and you can’t take it with you to the next place”.

He understands that life is full of incidents and recounts that in 1970 he was on board an aircraft which was hijacked by the Japanese Communist League-Red Army Faction. He remembers how he was handcuffed to the seat for the next four days in stifling conditions. He applied his skills as a doctor and considered the ordeal as an experiment and noted how the body reacted to such a situation.

Hinohara believes in role models and inspiration. He talks of a poem by Robert Browning called “Abt Vogler”. He recounts how his father read it to him and the message was to “make big art, not small scribbles”. The message in the poem is that in one life not everything can be seen or completed, but we can all work towards the big achievement, even if we can only see a small part of the picture. He says that the poem was about drawing a circle so big that it could never be finished and to try to look at it only an arch could be seen yet we know that the rest is there.

He also talks of his father who went to university in North Carolina, in the United States in 1900. Being such a large step for a young man to take at that time made Hinohara’s father his role model and hero. As Hinohara progressed through life he found other heroes to look up to and whenever a problem arose he would ask himself how they would deal with it.

He ends by saying that it’s amazing to live a long life and he thinks that we should all work for ourselves and our families until we are sixty. After this we should work for society and help others who are less able. He says that since age 65 he has been a volunteer to help others.


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