Table Speech

“Be more laid-back and enjoy your life”

August 5, 2009

Mr. Ko Okumura
Professor, Juntendo University Medical School

 Professor Sawaki, the renowned coach of Juntendo University for the Hakone ekiden (long-distance relay road race), asked me this May about a weird flu going around in Mexico and how it might affect the scheduled events of the International Association of Athletics Federations in Tokyo. I gave an immediate answer that there was nothing to worry about and advised him to go ahead with the plans. This was because patients infected with influenza or SARS will produce immune antibody in 5 or 6 days. I was convinced that with the medical facilities and knowledge we had gained in Japan, we could successfully treat various diseases. I was happy to hear later that the events were duly carried out, with athletes invited from overseas.

 A few years ago, I was asked by an executive at a meeting of a life insurance company, “the average life expectancy after retirement for the directors of companies listed in the 1st section is 7 years and 8 months. This is shorter than those in other positions. What is the reason behind this phenomenon?” I answered, “I assume the soberest type of people end up retiring as directors. Those with a slightly laid-back nature will retire either as president or board member, or else not be able to become director.” A large-scale study conducted in Finland was a good proof behind my reasoning. This 10-year-study intended to teach people the importance of health care. Subjects were divided into two groups. The 1st group consisted of 600 section and subsection chiefs, who were serious-minded. They were prohibited from smoking but allowed to drink only moderately. Their cholesterol levels were checked twice yearly. The 2nd group consisted of people in the same position and a similar life-style with the 1st group, but there were no restrictions on their smoking and drinking and they had no medical checks. Quite contrary to their supposition, 14-15 people died in the 1st group, while everyone in the 2nd group was in good health. Medical authority, though embarrassed, disclosed the result and tried to find the causes. This is the famous “Finnish Syndrome”.

 The first cause was presumably the over strict control on the cholesterol level. The common belief then in medical circles was that the lower the cholesterol level, the better. People with high cholesterol levels in the 1st group were put under medication, and this could have negative effects. Cholesterol is an essential component of hormones and strong veins. It also affects our brain activities. Today, the optimum cholesterol level is said to be 260-280mg if you want to live a long life. Patients who receive medication to lower the cholesterol level become silent and gloomy, and in some cases, suffer depression.

 The second cause was the stoic lifestyle, which could possibly build up mental stress that threatened the immune system. Every day, 1 trillion new cells are regenerated in our body, of which 5,000 are malignant cancerous cells. The immune cells called the NK (Natural Killer) cells trace these 5,000 cells and kill them. The level of NK cells decreases as one gets older, and it is also affected by the mental state. When people are put under severe stress, the function of NK cells falls dramatically, leading to higher carcinogenic rate and susceptibility to viral infections. Regular daily rhythm is another key to maintain sound NK activity. Irregular daily rhythm disrupts the flow of hormones and hampers NK capability.

 A survey was conducted 10 years ago by an airline, which showed that pilots on international flights who flew over the dateline frequently were short-lived. This was because their daily rhythm was unstable, lowering their NK level. Long-distance truck drivers in their 50s have a higher tendency to suffer from some kind of diseases, due to intense diurnal variation.

 There are ways to relieve mental stress. Once I conducted an experiment on a commercial TV program. It was a talk show between Mr. Tetsuro Tanba and a young announcer. I first took Mr. Tanba’s blood and measured his NK level. As he was in his 70s, his NK level was relatively low. After all the funny stories and lots of laughing, his NK level rose 10 times higher, while the NK level of the announcer dropped as he was tense in front of a celebrity. This illustrates how mental state and being nervous affect the immune cells.

 Nobody is free from stress. The key is how to overcome this stress so that it does not affect one’s future. Some might enjoy life with good friends, while others might seek refuge in moderate drinking. In short, those who have a laid-back tendency are capable of relieving stress more easily.

 We, the Oriental people often use the phrase “perpetual youth and longevity.” Perpetual youth means anti-aging and longevity equals long life. Perpetual youth and longevity seems a contradiction. The perpetual youth aims at winding the clock backwards and making a 60-year-old person regain the physical strength of 30 years earlier.
What I would like to tell you today is “Try and be laid-back and enjoy a longer life.”