Hitting A Nerve

Honoring a physician who led by example


In July, mostly unnoticed by Americans, a remarkable physician died in Japan.

Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara was a young 105 years old at the end, still practicing medicine.

When he was born in 1911, the average Japanese lifespan was 40. Due in part to him, it’s now one of the longest on Earth.

No stranger to medical disasters, he cared for those injured in the 1945 firebombing of Tokyo. Fifty years later, still working, he treated 640 victims of the 1995 nerve gas terror attack on the city’s subway. Between them, he survived being taken hostage in a 4-day plane hijacking in 1970.

Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara in 2013 By Karsten Thormaehlen - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0
Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara in 2013
Not surprisingly, given his age, he championed longevity. He believed heart disease and stroke weren’t inevitable, but due to lifestyle. He advocated for annual physicals. And, at the end of life, he felt strongly that palliative care should be the priority.

He didn’t believe in retirement, since keeping busy is good. At the same time he advocated for finding fun in what you were doing.

A staunch opponent of obesity, he advocated a spartan lifestyle. For breakfast he had coffee, milk, and orange juice (the last with a spoonful of olive oil mixed in). For lunch (if he didn’t skip it) hard biscuits and milk. Dinner was vegetables, rice, and a small amount of either beef or fish.

He believed in exercise, even if it was limited to your daily routine. Always take stairs. Carry your own bags and packages. Even in his last months, using a cane, he walked 2,000 steps per day.

At the end, unable to eat, he still led by example. He refused a feeding tube and opted to leave quietly, passing on at home.

Medicine today, including my own field, is full of gadgets. Amazing tests and treatments. I believe in them 100%, and use them, as we all do, to help alleviate suffering and help people live longer and better lives.

But at the same time, we need to keep in mind that prevention is the best treatment. Keeping your mind active is good. Palliative care doesn’t mean you gave up.

In a world of increasing obesity, diabetes, and vascular disease, his simple advice on exercise and eating modestly is a lesson for many, including myself.

Never underestimate the benefits of music and pets.

And always have fun.

Good night, good doctor.

Dr. Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.

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