Dr. Sanjay Gupta, chief medical correspondent at CNN and neurosurgeon at Emory University, has been researching and delving into the subject of longevity for years.
Along the way, he transformed his studies of new technology, age-old cultural practices from countries around the world, and medical research into a book and documentary, Chasing Life
, as well as another book, Cheating Death,
and several television series for CNN.
In this segment, Dr. Gupta joins Dr. Darria to share what he has learned from all this research on longevity.More from Sharecare:Get Younger in 5 Minutes a Day
RadioMD Presents: Sharecare Radio | Original Air Date: August 18, 2015
Host: Darria Long Gillespie, MD
Guest: Sanjay Gupta, MD
Sharecare. Helping you find experts: the top minds in medicine. It’s Sharecare Radio with Dr. Darria Long Gillespie on RadioMD.com.
Darria Long Gillespie (Host): Hi, it's Dr. Darria and I am back interviewing Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Now, he has interviewed the world's experts about longevity. So, we are taking some of his lessons and sharing them with you to apply it in your own life. Sanjay, let's jump right in. I wanted to talk just a little bit about exercise and the role that it plays in longevity.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta (Guest): I think one of the big things to remember with exercise--and this has some parallels to nutrition as well--in that we start to develop a certain mindset in this country and then when you have a hammer everything becomes a nail. So, with nutrition it was low fat diet. “If you eat low fat you're going to be just fine.” And we know, not surprisingly, that that's not quite the answer. It's not as simple as that. With exercise, it was all about cardiovascular training and, specifically, training like aerobics became the big thing. Jane Fonda--that was all the rage for a long time and I think a lot of that culture has continued on. There are definitely some real advantages to that type of exercise but I think what happens is, especially for people as they get older, is they forget about resistance training. Resistance training becomes really important. It becomes important for overall longevity because of your functionality, with your joints, the ability to stand upright. It becomes important for longevity because it decreases your chances of developing pneumonia, for example. If you end up in a nursing home or a hospital, good upper body strength can make you recover more quickly. I think just having more muscle mass helps you burn calories more. It helps your body run more efficiently, so I think that was the big takeaway. In places like Okinawa, they don't even have gyms. They don't have gyms but they're just always working, using their muscles. If you're someone like that, great, but if you're not--if you're at a desk job--don't forget about the resistance training.
Dr. Darria: That's really good. It’s very important for us at any age but especially as we get older to strengthen our bodies and keep us healthier longer. Now, moving from the physical to the mental, you've done a lot of looking at the impact of that including the Japanese concept of Ikigai, which you just explained. Tell us what that means and how it's associated with lifespan.
Dr. Gupta: I love this concept of Ikigai. I think it may be the most important thing that I took away when we were writing the book, Chasing Life, because I wanted to find things that were counterintuitive. If I could figure out on my own, then did I really need to be travelling around the world? Was so obvious that it just took reminding versus discovering. With Ikigai, I would to the folks in Okinawa--it's a Japanese word. Ikigai means “sense of purpose”. When I asked people--and these are people who are over 100 years old and still working--and I sat them down. We did little informal town hall discussions. I said, “What is it? What allows you to live so long?” Once we got through with some of the diet stuff and keep in mind that they don't say, “That this is my longevity diet.” They say, “This is what I've been eating for 100 years.”
Dr. Darria: They just do. Yes.
Dr. Gupta: That's just what they do. They walk to work and they have all the natural movements all day. But what it really came down to, in so many ways, I think, universally, was they talked about this Ikigai sense of purpose. They would wake up in the morning and they would know what they were there for. That sounds simplistic but what I thought was interesting--I think about my own background. I'm Indian-American, and my parents are immigrants to this country and there's a huge focus in my household and in my life on family. As someone gets older, they are not discarded in some ways, they are more embraced and their wisdom is sought out. In the United States you hit 65, you retire, you may be discarded from your professional life. If you don't have strong relationships with your family, you may be discarded from your personal life as well. Then your Ikigai really becomes harder and harder to maintain. So, it's simple in so many ways. You want to wake up every morning knowing what you are living for and I think that that sets the barometer for so many things in your life. You're likely to take better care of yourself; you're likely to make good decisions; you're likely to improve the lives of others; and you’re likely to be an altruistic person--all these things--if you know why you're here. So, wake up every morning with a sense of purpose and it fundamentally will change your life and your longevity.
Dr. Darria: Now, that’s fascinating. What are some practical tips for kind of going about and making sure you instill that in yourself?
Dr. Gupta: As a doctor myself and I'm sure, Darria, you probably have the same mindset. I love goals. I love to have things that are not super-vague things but actually as specific as possible. I have three daughters--I'm married--and my wife, so a lot of my Ikigai revolves around them, as I mentioned a little earlier. So, I think about something that I'm going to do for them every single day. It doesn't have to be big. It doesn't have to be a “thing”, even. I always wake up sort of in the morning like, “What am I going to do today that's going to make me a better dad or better husband?” That sort of thing. My work life, like you probably, Darria, I feel like I've got that figured out and it's very important to me and it does provide me a sense of purpose. But for myself--my soul--and I think what a lot of what the people in Okinawa were talking about, revolves more around just your relationships with your family, your legacy in that regard. So, it's some specific thing about how I'm going to be better today than I was yesterday. How I learned in some way from something and I'm going to tell the person, “I learned this thing yesterday from you.” It could be as simple as that. Tell my 10-year-old daughter, “You taught me something yesterday.” She loves that, it makes her feel wonderful and it makes me feel really good, too.
Dr. Darria: That's amazing. So, essentially it sounds like it just takes a little more thinking about what you can accomplish today and being grateful for what you accomplished yesterday.
Dr. Gupta: You may be thinking really nice things about people and your family and of course I love my family; but spending the time vocalizing it, making it real, reminding them. It's amazing what it can do. First of all, it does amazing things for the person who you vocalize it to but what you'll be surprised by and I think what the Ikigai concept really was all about, was the sense of purpose it'll give you as well. It'll make you want to continue to be better, make you feel good and continue to want to make their worlds better.
Dr. Darria: That's amazing and that's just definitely something each of us can incorporate every morning. It doesn't take any amount of money or anything else or time. It sounds like it drastically changes your mindset.
Dr. Gupta: Yes, you smile a lot.
Dr. Darria: Yes, excellent. Smiling is good. I want to switch in our last two minutes. You've talked about in Cheating Death and Chasing Life some fascinating new science and technology that we are seeing. Tell us more what we can imagine down the road.
Dr. Gupta: Let me tell you a simple one that I think is really interesting. I mentioned that I have a very strong family history of heart disease. My father developed heart disease when he was still in his 40s. So, I think about this a lot. What we know from people who have a heart problem or a cardiac arrest where they are not in the hospital somewhere, you start to really look at all the things that are going to make that person more likely to survive versus not. Some of them are really obvious: how quickly can emergency medical services get there, obviously; what kind of medical history that the person already have; do they respond to CPR; can they have their heart shocked--all those very specific things. One of the things you don't hear about much, though, is something known as hypothermia. Hypothermia-- there's been a lot of data on this and, basically, what it means is you cool the body.
Dr. Darria: Yes.
Dr. Gupta: The idea is, the heart is not working really well. So, you’ve got two options: get the heart working really well or reduce the demand from the body from the heart so the body is not asking as much. Hypothermia sort of works on the second part of that. It reduces the demand of blood. We know from some really remarkable studies in Arizona and Wisconsin that you can significantly improve survival rates in people who've had cardiac arrest by using hypothermia. Literally, Darria, we're talking about ice and cooling blankets. This isn't a fancy new drug or some new intervention. It's ice. So, here is a simple intervention that could make a significant improvement in cardiac survival rates. When I moved into our neighborhood, I did call the hospitals around and the EMS services to find out did they employ hypothermia in my area because if I were to ever have a cardiac arrest, it's something I would want. Simple technology that could make a difference.
Dr. Darria: It is, and it's something that we're now using in ER. But you're right. It's simple. It sounds kind of science fictiony but it's really just dropping their temperatures and making them cooler and increasing survival. It's amazing.
Dr. Gupta: Yes and even starting it on the ambulance because the quicker you get started the better.
Dr. Darria: Yes. Exactly. Exactly. That's a change we'll see probably more of, I hope. And expect to see coming forward. Sanjay, this was fantastic. I took some great lessons. I'm going to reduce the meat in my diet. I'm going to look for my sense of purpose every morning. Thank you so much for joining us. All of our listeners you can follow Sanjay on Twitter @DrSanjayGupta or go to CNN.com\Sanjay. We are going to be back next week with Sharecare Radio and if you can't wait a whole week, tweet us @SharecareInc with #SharecareRadio or @DrDarria. Sign up for our podcast at Sharecare.com\RadioMD.
This is Dr. Darria and you're listening to Sharecare Radio on Radio MD where we distill the latest health info to help you look, feel and live your best.