The Key to Staying Young

Published on March 1, 2015 in the Singapore American Newspaper:

It seems like ‘Act Your Age’ isn’t always good advice. For such a young country, Singapore appears to know exactly how to enjoy maturity. More than a quarter of the small country’s population is over the age of 50, which has sparked numerous discussions on the societal and health implications of ageing citizens. But a recent survey commissioned by GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare found that plenty of Singaporean senior citizens are living life to the fullest.

150 Singaporeans over 50 from across the island were interviewed to create the “The Inner Age Index”, a survey that sought to discover their perceptions, attitudes and behaviors towards ageing. The results bring an optimistic voice into the national conversation, which is often more focused on the potential negative impacts of a mature population. 70% of those surveyed reported feeling five years younger than their age. And apparently that’s not all due to eating your vegetables. 9 in 10 declared that a positive attitude was the key to feeling younger and that laughing was the best anti-ageing medicine. In a country where anti-ageing skin creams dominate the shelves of every pharmacy, this study is a refreshing counterpoint.

Chairman of the Medical Board, Dr. Philip Koh believes the Inner Age Index could have a positive impact on not only how the government contemplates their elderly citizens but also on how society as a whole views them. He hopes this will allow people to realize that getting older can come with great opportunities.

“You know Singaporeans, we love to complain,” laughed Dr. Koh in a telephone interview. “We expected the respondents to be more stressed, but quite a number of people were surprisingly optimistic. It really is all about attitude at the end of the day. It’s important to figure out how to embrace ageing rather fight it.”

Gijs Sanders, General Manager of GSK Consumer Healthcare in Singapore, agrees, commenting that “our research shows that attitude plays a major factor when it comes to ageing well, on top of the obvious things like a healthy diet and staying physically active…Your age is just a number; what really matters is how old you feel.”

Cynics may wonder if this study was conducted to provide a balance to some of the controversy Singapore has faced concerning care for the elderly. While about 85% of the nation’s senior citizens live with their families, the remaining 15% either live alone or in nursing homes, which are often a costly option despite government subsidies. As Singapore’s population matures, questions arise about how to enable seniors to age comfortably, especially if their families aren’t able to fully support them. Despite being housed in the oft-disparaged HDB complexes, Dr. Koh remarked that the government does put energy into enabling independence for the elderly, coordinating activities and community groups so they can get “out of their cages.” Which is handy, because 64% of the survey’s respondents said that being over 50 means they finally have time to realize passions such as socializing with friends, travelling, playing sports, and exercising.

As expats, it’s easy to believe Singapore has always been the manicured city we know today. When you consider that the people surveyed for the Inner Age Index have been witness to the Republic of Singapore’s entire history, it’s evident that their bright perspective is the result of varied and extraordinary experiences. Nevertheless, Mr. Sanders reports that “what surprised us was the importance of the simple things in life – remember, [9 of out 10 of the people we surveyed declared that] laughing is the best anti-ageing medicine!”

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