Relationships Are Key to Longevity
By Mischa Geracoulis as related by Lars Gantzel
At the tender age of 70, Lars Gantzel launched an investigation into the secrets of long, healthy, and ecstatic living. His research took him around the world - from his Scandinavian homeland to the Far East and, ultimately, to the California shores. Determined to create a fate far different from the general standards of practice in the West, he has set out to embody the results of his inquiry.
Gantzel's interest in longevity was sparked by numerous research studies revealing that Asian-American women live the longest of any racial and ethnic group in America. As well, studies show that certain peoples of the eastern hemisphere, such as Okinawa and Uzbekistan, outlive the rest of the world. And so it was that Gantzel struck out for the East.
Making the most of an invitation to Keio University in Japan, Gantzel seized the opportunity to begin his research into Japanese lifestyle. He took particular note of the fact that his university hostess made a two-hour trip every Monday to spend the night at her father's house, the house in which she had grown up. There, also lives her brother and his family.
While in Japan, Gantzel made the obligatory study of diet and exercise. Mostly a vegetarian diet - check. Active, pedestrian lifestyle - check. He confirmed what most of us already know; these dietary and lifestyle choices are healthier than the standard western diet and sedentary culture. These things are not secrets though. There had to be more.
As he continued on in his research, he observed a common thread running throughout the homes of centenarians: grandchildren. In a recent feature of a 128-year-old woman in Uzbekistan, she is merrily poised amid her granddaughters with whom she lives. This draws a dramatic distinction between eastern culture and that of Gantzel's familiar Northern European culture.
In Japan, Gantzel witnessed firsthand the pleasures of aging. Elders are cherished and integrated with their youth. Not only in private homes, but out in public too. He especially noticed that Japanese elders are included in family outings. What a difference from what he had experienced back in Denmark. He recollects a visit to the Tivoli Gardens amusement park indelibly imprinted in his memory.
During this visit, he happened upon a group of nursing home residents. Twelve attendants had wheeled the dozen wheelchair-bound patients into a perfect circle. There they sat, expressionless, all facing one another instead of looking out onto the crowd of laughing children. It was exceedingly, and dismally deficient of joy.
Gantzel sadly remembers his own mother's isolated last days. He and his dad peered surveillance-like through a tiny glass window into the confines of his mother's silent, sterile hospital room. Watching her stare vacantly into blank space, they longed to hug her, to hold her hand, to say goodbye. But in a Danish hospital that was not possible.
She was, for all intents and purposes, quarantined. Not because she was contagious from a life-threatening disease, but simply because she was nearing the end of her Earth walk. Void of warmth or familiarity, official procedures clinically and succinctly ushered her transition along.
As in most of the industrialized, western world, natural phases of our human condition are relegated to scientific methodology and medical processes. Many of our societal norms enforce the fallacy of separation. But what happens in other parts of the world? How are health and aging approached? As a retired professor of philosophy, these questions gnawed at Gantzel. These very questions spawned on his continued search for the key to longevity.
Gantzel's forays into Japanese life reveal the greatest requisite component for longevity is human connectedness. What a discovery for him to learn that in Japan it's customary for extended families to live together under one roof. In stark contrast to the western practice of isolating and institutionalizing elders, grandparents live with their children and grandchildren. Even the president of the contemporary Tokyo Imperial Hotel had a sizeable home built for the sole purpose of housing his many grandchildren.
Harking back on his mother's aging process, Gantzel aspires to live in a more eastern-like fashion. The same goes for his life-coaching clients. He advocates founding life on relationships, creativity, joy and humor. He also promotes healthy diet and exercise, but no there is no food or exercise in the world that nourishes the spirit like human bonding.
In Gantzel's own life, maintaining relationships is his number one priority. Though his sons live in far-flung locations around the globe, summers are reserved for exciting reunions at the family compound in Denmark. He maintains an open-door policy for all family and friends.
Gantzel's brothers have taken their own measures to ensure a life filled with as much family, friendship and delight as possible. One brother built an addition onto his Southern California home for his grandchildren. Another brother chose to retire in a ski resort area for no other reason than to guarantee a place for him and his extended family to enjoy one another.
Based on his trips to the East, Gantzel has concluded that the Japanese are experts at blissful, vibrant aging. His field studies conclude that connection and interaction are the real secrets to a long and healthy life. It is said that it takes a village to rear a child. He passionately asserts that it takes a village at all stages of life!
Conducting field research on longevity, Gantzel divides his time among Denmark, California, New England, the Far East and many points in between. He takes delight in the human family, and in creating a legacy of merriment, mischief-making, and comic relief!
Mischa Geracoulis writes on health, spirituality, culture, political and social sciences. As a practitioner in the holistic healing arts, non-violent communication and interfaith ministry, her work reflects the interconnectedness of body, mind, spirit, and the Universe at large.