If you ask Mario E. Martinez, Psy.D., his age, he won’t give it to you—but not because he’s embarrassed by it or offended that you asked.
“One of the premises I work with is to never tell your age,” says Martinez, a clinical neuropsychologist and expert in healthy longevity. “The more you tell people your age, the more you’re put into a cultural portal, and then the way people treat you will be based on that—and then your biology will respond. This is why when people retire, they sometimes live only four to five more years. They age very quickly because they go into the portal of the retirement.”
This philosophy is at the heart of the work Martinez does at the Biocognitive Science Institute (BSI) in Nashville, Tennessee. He founded BSI in 1998 after developing a theory he calls biocognitive science or biocognition. Through BSI, Martinez works to educate people all over the world to look not only at the role of the body and mind in health, illness, and aging, but also at the influence culture has on the process. For example, he points to the higher numbers of centenarians experiencing healthier lives in cultures that support and value growing older compared to cultures that view aging as a process of inevitable decline.
He also points to his own life to illustrate the role of culture.
Making His Own Way
Growing up in New York City and Miami, Martinez planned to become an engineer like his grandfather, who invented a crane used to help harvest sugarcane in Cuba and the Philippines.
“He became very, very wealthy so my mother said I was going to be an engineer—that’s it,” Martinez recalls. But when he started studying engineering in college, Martinez hated it and told his mother he wasn’t going into engineering.
“I said, ‘I’m sorry. I’m not my grandfather,’” he remembers. “And she said, ‘Well, do anything you want except psychology’ because she knew that’s what I liked. So that’s how I started.”
He would go on to earn a master’s in clinical psychology from Vanderbilt University, a doctorate in clinical psychology from Universidad Complutense de Madrid, and a postdoctoral degree in psychopharmacology from Fairleigh Dickinson University.
In his early work as a clinical neuropsychologist, Martinez grew dismayed at the approach to patient care he and others were taking. “I realized we were basically looking at pathology maintenance rather than healthcare,” he says. “I started wondering about longevity because you see a lot of death and a lot of problems. I thought, Well, a scientist looks at what works and then develops theories on that. What is the best population to look at longevity? Centenarians.”
He began studying people all over the world who had reached the age of 100, expecting to find genetics was behind their long lives. But his research didn’t support that. “I found that genetics accounts for only 20 percent of longevity,” Martinez says. “It doesn’t have to do with diet, or socioeconomics, or gender—nothing that we think about. It has to do more with the way these people perceived the world.”
Changing the Default Mode
Martinez took his research deeper, looking at how thoughts and emotions affect the nervous, immune, and endocrine systems. He discovered that the centenarians he was studying “have a way of looking at things specifically having to do with adversity, with relationships, and with self-valuation, and each of those things has emotions and has immunological benefits.”
He’s determined that everything—including our family, our friends, and our culture—not only shapes how we think, feel, and act, but also impacts our health and longevity. Martinez spreads his message worldwide through BSI in the form of mentorships, consultations, lectures, workshops, video courses, and books. His books include The MindBody Code: How to Change the Beliefs That Limit Your Health, Longevity, and Success (Sounds True, 2014) and The MindBody Self: How Longevity Is Culturally Learned and the Causes of Health Are Inherited (Hay House, 2017). He also has a strong presence on YouTube.
“People are hungry for this kind of information because they’re tired of hearing everything’s wonderful or everything’s terrible,” he says. “There’s no real science in the middle. What I’m trying to do is say, ‘These things are wonderful, and let me tell you how to make them wonderful’ rather than ‘Just be happy’ and that kind of thing because it doesn’t work that way.”
His clients include longevity centers in the United States, Poland, and Germany. Over the years, he’s concluded that diet, exercise, meditation, and other “wonderful things” can only take us so far. He focuses on helping people change their default mode, how they view the world, to reverse their biological age.
“Biological age doesn’t matter,” he says. “You could be 90 and if your biological age is 50, you’re 50. So that’s very encouraging and very powerful.”
Living What He Believes
Martinez, who has two adult children (his daughter is a psychologist; his son, a political scientist), puts his theories into practice in his day-to-day life.
“I don’t obsess about what I eat,” he says, “but I eat mostly vegetarian and fish, and I eat meat every once in a while. I drink wine every night. I don’t do these things so I can be healthy. I do them because I enjoy them. The more you learn, the more you pay attention to your body, the more your body’s going to want healthy things.”
He believes rituals—but not rigid routines—are extremely important, so three days a week he goes to lunch at his favorite restaurant, where he often writes. “They know me there,” he says. “They bring me my tea and it’s a ritual. Ritual is immunologically incredibly enhancing.”
Other rituals include forest walks and meditation. He enjoys his friends and is passionate about his writing and work—so much so that he doesn’t sleep well. “I can’t wait to wake up,” he says. “You have to have purpose in life.”
He also works on developing additional skills in “burning the negativity that we all learn,” and in undoing the cultural beliefs instilled in him early in life. For example, he was always told that the men on his mother’s side all have heart problems. “That puts you into a bad place and you start thinking, what’s going to happen?” he says. “That in itself can cause problems.” A thorough cardiovascular workup recently revealed that he had no heart issues.
What he enjoys most, he says, is seeing people progress on their journey to a long and healthy life. “When people have an insight or they’re beginning to reduce their suffering,” he says, “that’s very exciting to me.”
He likes his life in Nashville, where, he says, “nobody knows me. I like it that way. The only thing I miss, being from Miami, is the ocean, but here we have the mountains and lakes and everything.”
He hopes his work will continue to convey the power that our culture has on us, he explains, “so that we can teach centenarian consciousness at any age.”
This article appeared in Unity Magazine.