Do you want to live a healthier, longer life? Thanks to essential health practices in a sometimes-unconventional lifestyle, Dr. Bill Tsu’s dad, Eddie, lived to be 101. Now, in this one-of-a-kind collection, Dr. Tsu lays out the keys to his father’s extraordinary health and longevity. Discover how Eddie stayed lean and fit while eating plenty of carbohydrates and snacking daily, how his habit of walking backward improved his health and how his three pessimistic expectations for life contribute to a happy, low stress existence.
Just as important, learn how to reduce your risk of cancer by doing one simple thing, how monitoring techniques like checking a pulse can prevent a strike and how basic health concepts can lead to better healthcare decisions. The knowledge collected in, Dad Lived to 101 and You Can Too, helped Eddy reach his centenarian years and it can do the same for you. This is the Author Hour Podcast, and I’m your host, Frank Garza. Today, I’m joined by Dr. Bill Tsu, author of a brand-new book, Dad Lived to 101 and You Can Too.
Bill, welcome to the show.
Bill Tsu, MD: Thank you for having me, Frank. It’s great to be here.
Frank Garza: To kick things off, could you please tell us a little bit about your background and how that led to you writing this book?
Bill Tsu, MD: I’ve always been interested in health issues since my teenage years. When I used to accompany my immigrant parents on their doctor visits, I was their English translator. Now, this turned out to be a great experience for me. From the early age, I learned the value of staying healthy and it started my interest in medicine. This would lead to a medical degree but not before studying chemical engineering in college.
I want to stress the importance of this, that’s because my engineering training influenced my way of thinking. It taught me the systematically and logically evaluate things, including the human body. This is reflected in the book where it helped me in presenting concepts in a more clear and precise manner.
After medical school came anesthesia residency and fellowship, then the career in anesthesia that so far has spanned over three decades. Now, the most essential part of my background experience is being the son of Eddy, who lived to 101. He inspired me to write this book, he showed me first and how to live a long, healthy life and he made it look so easy.
What led me to write this book was that I felt there was a need for it and I believe that I could write it so that it would help people by sharing insights from my clinical experiences and sharing personal stories of the things Eddy did that promoted his health and longevity.
Is There A Secret to Longevity?
Frank Garza: Who would you describe as your target audience for this book?
Bill Tsu, MD: When I wrote this book, I didn’t think about writing it for any specific audience. I wrote it for everyone, for all age groups, from young adults to seniors. Also, I wanted to benefit those that are already living a healthy lifestyle. The second half of the book addresses important non-lifestyle practices. These readers will realize that a healthy lifestyle is essential but it’s not enough. It’s really not enough if you want to do all you can for your health.
Frank Garza: In chapter one, you talk about healthy eating, it’s called ‘healthy eating with an unremarkable diet.’ There’s some ways your dad ate that maybe would surprise some people for a person who lived to 101 and one of them, you talk about is your dad ate a lot of white rice and he snacked regularly. Why didn’t this hurt him?
Bill Tsu, MD: When people learned that my dad lived to be a hundred, one of the first questions they would ask me was, “What did he eat?” Now, that’s an excellent question because what do you eat, what we eat does affect our health and longevity. I really wish I could have told them that there was some miracle food that he ate that his secret of longevity was eating a lot of ginger and seaweed extracts and if they did the same, they too would live a long and healthy life but I can’t, there was no such miracle food.
In fact, my dad ate, I would say an unremarkable diet. Yes, it was basically nutritious foods but as you mentioned, he also ate a significant amount of rice and he liked to snack a lot. In fact, he snacked daily. Now, let’s first address the issue of eating rice. Rice is a carbohydrate, that’s a bad word for many who are trying to lose weight. Carbohydrates are frequently blamed for much of the weight problems and its related health issues in this country. Yet it didn’t hurt Eddy, it didn’t seem to hurt the Japanese.
They too eat plenty of white rice, percentage-wise, they eat as much or more carbohydrates than Americans but they have one-tenth of our obesity rate and one of the world’s longest lifespans. Clearly, carbohydrates might not necessarily be bad for you but why is this so?
The answer is really pretty simple, it may not appear simple but it really is. It’s based on the fact that what ultimately determines your weight, if you gain or lose weight, it’s the difference between the number of calories you eat and the number of calories your body burns. It’s calories in minus calories out. Eat more calories than you burn and you’ll gain weight, eat less calories than you burn and you’ll lose weight.
Now, notice that it’s the amount of calories you eat, not where the calories come from. It doesn’t matter if the calories are from a piece of broccoli or from a piece of cake. A calorie is a calorie when it comes to your weight.
Here’s the reason why they didn’t gain weight. Although the Japanese eat percentage-wise as much carbohydrates, the actual number of carbohydrate calories is not excessive. This made the total amount of calories they ate no greater than the calories their body burn, so they didn’t gain weight despite eating the rice and because they didn’t put on the extra weight, they avoided the health problems that’s associated with carbohydrates.
Now, let’s look at my dad’s habit of snacking. His favorite snacks were cookies, chips and chocolates. I would estimate that he consumed two to 300, maybe 400 calories of snacks every day. I would say, about 20% or so of his total caloric intake were snacks and the rest, relatively healthy foods. Like carbohydrates, this would have been unhealthy if it resulted him gaining excess weight but it didn’t because again, his total calories eaten didn’t exceed the calories he burned.
Now, I focused mostly on how to maintain a healthy weight in the first chapter because excess body weight is the number one health problem in the United States. That’s because of its high prevalence, you know, over 70% American adults are overweight and also because of the medical conditions associated with being overweight. We’re talking about diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. A couple of other takeaways, eating healthy food doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll lose weight.
Now, I’m not telling you not to eat healthy foods, that’s essential but you have to understand that just as important as what you eat is how much you eat. Remember that a calorie is a calorie and what determines your weight is the difference between the numbers you eat and the number of calories you burn.
Even if you eat an excessive amount of healthy food calories, you’ll still gain weight and develop the diseases associated with being overweight. Another takeaway, realize that your metabolism is stubborn and it’s very difficult to raise your weight — to raise it for weight loss purposes.
You could imagine if there was a supplement, a drug or a food that could boost your metabolism so that you could lose weight without any effort, it would be the holy grail of weight loss solutions. You eat as much as you want, you don’t need to exercise and you still burn off pounds of fat because of your higher metabolism.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can take or eat that’s been safely and scientifically proven to substantially raise your metabolism to lose weight. Changing your metabolism isn’t the way to go.
Frank Garza: The next chapter is called “getting enough physical activity without exercising”, this is maybe another surprising thing as you said your dad never exercised. Why was this okay?
Bill Tsu, MD: My dad never exercised a day in his life and yet, he was able to stay healthy, lean and fit well into his 90s. If you think about it, not surprising because in most the longevity areas of the world, the population there also didn’t exercise, they didn’t go to the gym to have workout routines.
Instead, they simply lived a physically active life like my dad. In fact, there is no scientific evidence that exercising is better for your health and longevity than an overall active lifestyle. Now you ask, what did my dad do instead of exercising? You know, for most of his life, he had physically demanding jobs. When he was a teenager, he worked as a deckhand on cargo ships that picked up laborers from the port of Shanghai.
On the ships he would mop the decks, do the laundry, and clean the dishes. After he landed in the United States, he worked on a farm for a number of years, working the soil, collecting crops and tending to farm animals. Eventually, he bought his own dry-cleaning business where he pressed clothes six days a week until I retired at the age of 75. Even after he retired, he stayed active. He didn’t like to sit around and he was always looking for things to do around the house or in his garden.
Frank Garza: Another thing that caught my eye in that chapter was that you mentioned your dad walks backwards. What is the benefit of walking backwards?
Bill Tsu, MD: They were specific activities that my dad engaged in that promoted his health, walking backwards was one of them. I remember on his hundredth birthday, I was kidding with him and I said, “You’re now officially an old man” to prove me wrong, he walked backwards across his bedroom and walking backward has been practiced in some Asian countries for centuries. They believed it helped to keep the mind and the body healthy and the mind because it forces your brain to do something different. The body, because it utilizes muscles that you don’t’ normally use when you walk forward.
Another physical activity I want to mention briefly is standing. For some reason, my dad loved to stand, maybe it was because he was used to standing from all the time he spent pressing clothes. He would stand while reading his newspaper and magazines, stand while watching television and even stand while eating. There could be empty chairs around the dining table and he still stood. He didn’t know it but it was good for his health.
Studies have shown that both excessive sitting and prolonged continuous sitting are harmful. Now, excess sitting is defined as sitting for more than eight hours a day and prolonged continuous sitting is uninterrupted sitting for more than 30 minutes straight, both of them can increase your chances of heart disease and shorten your lifespan. If you spend much of your day sitting in front of a computer or a television screen, keep these studies in mind. Try to limit the number of hours you sit and get up every half an hour or so to move around.
Frank Garza: Okay, in the next chapter, you talk about three pessimistic expectations that your dad had to manage stress. What were these three pessimistic expectations?
Bill Tsu, MD: The managing stress well is important for your health and there was a good reason for it because stress, it is not just in your mind, it affects your whole body. It raises your heart rate and blood pressure. It changes your breathing, you breathe faster and your breathing may feel tight and it could totally disrupt your gastrointestinal track resulting in abdominal bloating and changes in your bowel habits.
Coming back to the question, my dad managed stress very well and it was because of as you mentioned, three pessimistic expectations — which to say seemingly pessimistic expectations that he believed in. Number one, life is hard. He always said, “Expect at all times unexpected problems. Expect to work hard to achieve what you want.”
Number two, life is not equal and fair. You know, some are given advantages in life that you don’t have and expect that you not always get what you think you deserve and the final expectation is, life doesn’t owe you happiness. Expect that happiness will not come to you without effort and expect to find happiness by searching within yourself for what makes you happy.
Now, these beliefs appear harsh and you would think it was the thought of a pessimist but nothing could be further from the truth. My dad was quite the opposite, he was happy, easy-going and he was optimistic and he was always looking at the positive side of life but he realized from early on in his life that there was certain realities that he had to accept including things he couldn’t control or change.
Because he had these expectations, he was more psychologically prepared and less stressed by the challenges and problems life threw at him.
Frank Garza: Later in the chapter, you talk about some other key character traits that you can develop that improve health. What are some of these other key character traits?
Bill Tsu, MD: Yeah, you’ve heard the expression “nice guys finish last.” I am happy to say it’s not always true, at least when it comes to your health. Here, the nice guys finish first. In the book, I talked about some positive character traits that my dad had, humility, gratitude, empathy. I know that having these traits contributed to his happiness and it gave him a more fulfilling life.
There has been studies that showed that these character traits improve our overall physical well-being. You know, they make us happier and less anxious and help us feel better about ourselves. Now, I also want to mention some character traits that can hurt your health. I remember early in my anesthesia career over 30 years ago, I was working in the operating room when the scrub nurse handed the wrong instrument to a surgeon.
Now, this particular surgeon wasn’t a very tolerant individual. He cursed at the nurse, threw the instrument across the room and he kicked the waste bucket that was next to his feet and I can still recall thinking at the time how he was hurting himself more than anyone else. His anger, you know most likely spiked up his blood pressure and heart rate stressing his heart. Here’s an example of a negative character trait damaging your health.
In fact, studies have shown that within a few hours of feeling angry, the risk of a heart attack increases nearly 500% and also the risk of a stroke, over 300%. I’m glad to say the bottom line for your health is that it pays to be nice.
Self-Monitoring Is a Critical Part of Maintaining Your Health
Frank Garza: In a later chapter, you talk about health concepts for detecting and preventing diseases and there’s a section in there called “non-specific symptoms are easy to ignore.” What is a non-specific symptom and can you talk about why that’s so important?
Bill Tsu, MD: Yeah, a non-specific symptom is a symptom that doesn’t point to a specific diagnosis. Instead, it could be associated with a wide range of conditions. Fatigue is a non-specific symptom. You probably experience it when you don’t get enough sleep or you work too hard but fatigue may also present itself with anemia. Headache is another common non-specific symptom.
You have stress or you skip your morning coffee, your caffeine fix and you could wind up with a headache but also could be caused by brain tumor. You know, one of the main dangers of a non-specific symptom is that you sign a harmless reason to it, so if a symptom persists, it really should be medically evaluated.
Frank Garza: Another section is called, “be aware of diseases without early symptoms.” What are some examples of these diseases and what can you do about them?
Bill Tsu, MD: Yeah, some diseases don’t have early symptoms. These diseases are — they’re insidious and they damage your health, they endanger your life without you being aware of them. Now hypertension is a common example of an insidious disease. It is the number one cause of heart disease and it is the most significant risk factor for strokes, hence its nickname, the silent killer.
When my dad was diagnosed with hypertension, he never had any symptoms. He felt perfectly fine but left undetected, his blood pressure, elevated blood pressure could have damaged his heart, his brain and kidney without any trace of pain or discomfort. It was only because we monitored his blood pressure regularly at home that we found this condition.
Now, another insidious disease or silent disease that I want to talk about is cancer. It’s the second leading cause of death in Americans and we fear it because it strikes unexpectedly. You know, it is frequently silent until it advances to its more serious stages. That’s why preventative cancer screening exam such as colonoscopy and mammograms are essential and they really shouldn’t be avoided or delayed.
The bottom line for insidious diseases that you have to be vigilant and you have to actively look and screen for them.
Frank Garza: Another chapter I wanted to dig into is chapter six, lifesaving physiological monitoring at home and there’s a section called, “feel a pulse to save a life” and you give several examples of when you’ve done this for family members and recognize serious issues that are going on with them. Could you share one of these?
Bill Tsu, MD: Yes, I can. Feeling a pulse to sense its rhythm is something that I think we all can learn to do. It is a simple action and it really can save a life or prevent a catastrophic medical event such as stroke. Now, outside of a medical setting, twice in my life I’ve detected life-threatening arrhythmias, abnormal heart rhythms in other words by simply feeling someone’s pulse and sensing its rhythm.
I’m a doctor so you know obviously, it is easier for me because that is what I do but believe me, you can do it too. You could learn to feel a pulse and sense its rhythm. It just takes practice. Before we go any further, let’s go over why we should learn to feel a pulse. It’s to detect an irregular heart rhythm that maybe atrial fibrillation. Now, atrial fibrillation or ‘A-fib’ is the most common abnormal heart rhythm in this country.
It currently affects more than five million Americans and this number is growing as the population ages. It is the common cause of stroke. A-fib increases your risk of a stroke by 300 to 500%. Now, one of the problems with A-fib is that it’s frequently silent or it presents with minimal non-specific symptoms such as fatigue, weakness and lightheadedness. It’s just what we talked about a minute ago; insidious diseases, non-specific symptoms.
So you may not know that you have A-fib until you have a stroke. In fact, it is not uncommon for patients to arrive in the emergency room because they’re having a stroke and A-fib is discovered for the first time. The key here is to detect A-fib early before it could cause serious harm. You asked me to share a personal example, it involves my mom. One morning, I saw her in the kitchen making breakfast and she was sort of her usual active 86-year-old self.
But she mentioned to me that she was a bit lightheaded and she wasn’t dizzy, didn’t feel like fainting and she didn’t have trouble going about her day so far but she noticed there was something different in the way she felt. You know, her claims didn’t appear serious but just to be sure, I decided to feel her pulse and a good thing I did. Within a minute, I discovered that the rhythm of her pulse was very irregular.
The beats of her pulse occurred randomly, some immediately after another, some after a short pause and some after a long pause. There was no predictability as to when I would feel the next beat. This was a new finding for my mom, so right away I knew that this was a medical emergency. Within a couple of hours, she was seen by a cardiologist who confirmed the diagnosis of A-fib and she was immediately started on medications to help prevent the stroke.
Now, what’s essential to realize here is that my mom didn’t have any severe complaints. She wouldn’t have sought medical care if I hadn’t bothered to feel her pulse. Her A-fib wouldn’t have been discovered. You know, I should also mention that there’s now smart devices including smartwatches that could help you detect A-fib.
Frank Garza: Well, writing a book is such a feat. Congratulations on getting this done. Is there anything else about you or the book that you want to make sure our listeners know before we wrap up?
Bill Tsu: Yes, there is. You know, I hope that when people read this book, they’ll realize there is so much they can do to improve or maintain their health and that they believe they can definitely be healthier and live a longer life and with that realization, be inspired to make a commitment to their health or better yet, make it a passion. Make it a passion to do what is necessary to attain in staying good health and hopefully just as with my dad, longevity will follow.
Frank Garza: Bill, this has been such a pleasure. So happy that you put this book out into the world. The book is called, Dad Lived to a 101 and You Can Too. Besides checking out the book, where can people find you?
Bill Tsu, MD: Yeah, I have a LinkedIn profile and at present, that’s the best way to reach me.
Frank Garza: Thank you, Bill.
Bill Tsu, MD: Thank you, Frank.