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Post date: Jan 11, 2013 6:41:1 AM

Editorial; Resolving to embrace health in every sense

31 December 2012

Straits Times

SINGAPOREANS have added reason to resolve to adopt a healthy lifestyle, not just in the new year but for the rest of their lives. Men and women here have the world's second and fourth highest life expectancy, according to a multi-nation disease and disability survey. But longevity does not always go hand in hand with good health. Indeed, the additional years are more likely to be dogged by ill health. A boy born here in 2010 will spend nearly 11 of his 79 years coping with serious disability, the Global Burden of Disease Study has projected. A girl will spend over 13 of her 83 years in poor health.

However, Singaporeans young and old can prove the forecast wrong by taking early steps to prevent or delay the onset of disease as they age. This will amount to not just one but a set of multiple resolutions - eat less food with high salt, sugar and saturated fat and more fruit and vegetable; quit smoking and excessive drinking; and exercise more frequently to keep flab at bay. It need not be perceived as an act of penance for past years of indulgence if one leverages family, workplace and social group support to help make good habits stick.

Health should be better managed than one's investment portfolio because a debilitating illness can rob one of even the simple pleasures of life. Hence the need for regular medical check-ups, as early treatment often offers a higher rate of success than that for advanced-stage disease.

The young should invest in their health by building bone density through exercise as early as they can, as osteoporosis in later life can end in hip and other fractures. And the old ought to acquire active ageing awareness well before they begin to look and feel their age. These are all pursuits that deserve to become national obsessions, given the profound impact of prolonged poor health at different life stages.

With rising health costs calling for higher state subsidies, there is an economic benefit when individuals take charge of their own health. One aspect of healthy living can have a salubrious effect on the social fabric too. This can result when more give attention to their emotional and psychological health by boosting ties within the family circle, network of friends and wider community. Insurance statistics and research data elsewhere have long confirmed the toxic impact of isolation. A 30-year survey of 972 Johns Hopkins medical students, for example, found loners were 16 times more prone to cancer. Other studies have shown people living by themselves have higher rates of suicide, alcoholism and mental illness. The bottom line is that Singaporeans should cultivate a holistic sense of well-being not because life is short, but because it is long.