SINGAPORE - As a family doctor trained in community geriatrics and a public health researcher in ageing, I often get asked by seniors: What is the secret to ageing well?
I studied seniors living in the Tanjong Pagar-Tiong Bahru constituency to ascertain the relationship between physical exercise and cognitive wellness, and found that physical activity indeed improved memory and brain functioning.
These seniors participated actively in a variety of activities organised under the Tanjong Pagar-Tiong Bahru wellness programme, such as qigong, brisk walking and line-dancing.
From what I witnessed of the seniors who participated in my research, the answer is apparent.
First, be physically active. This can take the form of housework, walking around the neighbourhood doing errands, or practising qigong with friends at the community club.
Adapt your exercise regime as your body changes with ageing, and soon, you will realise it also helps in maintaining your mental capacity and sense of balance.
Second, staying socially engaged with family and friends protects you from loneliness, depression and anxiety, and makes you happy, secure and purposeful. Don't just keep in contact - be involved in their lives in a meaningful and mutually positive way, such as minding your grandchildren, joining an interest group, or volunteering to help others.
Third, go for regular health screenings and maintain a healthy body weight. There is a variety of recommended health screening tests for seniors, including those for blood pressure, diabetes, cholesterol and cancer.
It is definitely better to be diagnosed with an illness early, which would have a good chance of being cured or before any permanent damage is done, than to live in ignorance or after irreversible damage has occurred.
There are many who refuse to see a doctor for further investigations when they have abnormal test results. Ignorance is not bliss.
If it is financial difficulty that is stopping you from seeking further treatment, the Pioneer Generation Package can help alleviate that burden. You can also seek advice from grassroots organisations regarding financial aid.
In the light of our rapidly ageing population, the question of ageing healthily becomes more pertinent, and the answer is disarmingly simple. No one is responsible for your own health but yourself. Take care of your body and your body will take care of you.
Letter from Gerald Koh Choon Huat (Dr)
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