Everywhere we go, everyone seems to constantly be on the lookout for the next big health fad, superfood, or fitness programme, all with the intention to add years to their biological calendars.
The average life expectancy has increased, but do we experience quality life in these added years?
Eldercare is one of the most daunting challenges of our day. The global population of people above the age of 60 is expected to triple from circa 60 million today to nearly two billion in 2050. This is accompanied by a shrinking population demographic, where fewer younger people will support an ageing population in the coming years.
Source: Singapore ageing at a faster pace than a decade ago, Straits Times
An article published by the Straits Times on 25 June 2019 titled, “Longer Lifespan brings New Challenges”, found that Singapore topped the world’s life expectancy in 2017 with an expected lifespan at birth of 84.8 years (2018: 83.2 years).
The longer life expectancy comes with the ominous expectation that 10.6 of those years would be spent in poor health.
While the average Singaporean also enjoys the longest span of living in good health - 74.2 years, there has also been a rise in the number of unhealthy years that a person lives. According to a report by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation in the United States, the longer life expectancy comes with the ominous expectation that 10.6 of those years would be spent in poor health.
Source: Singstat, Life Expectancy 2018
As an Asian society that places emphasis on the burden of care being on the families of these elderly, the responsibility shifts from the individual, to the family. While a degree of responsibility lies with the individual, the government provides support in the form of Medishield and through other Eldercare organisations, and he is not left completely to the mercy of sicknesses that would arrive with the onset of old age.
The challenge for an ageing society, would be to reduce the population’s sickly years by helping the elderly stay healthy and live independently for as long as they can.
Societies that absolve the individual of personal responsibility simply transfer the burden of care to the government with welfare schemes that will invariably take a toll on society and the economy, which will only be amplified as that demographic increases.
In these circumstances, the challenge for an ageing society, would be to reduce the population’s sickly years by helping the elderly stay healthy and live independently for as long as they can.
The Straits Times featured a number of articles on 14 July 2019 titled, "The Age of Possibility", a two-page spread describes the benefits those in the later years can get with regular resistance and stamina training. While the government's efforts to promote the 10,000 step goal a day is doing well to stave off inactivity and the mortality correlation that comes with it, there is much more that can be done for the elderly.
Mr. Spencer Soh, is a 63-year-old personal fitness and Muay Thai trainer, training 6 days a week. He picked up Muay Thai at the age of 43, and feels fitter now than when he started twenty years ago. He recognizes that "cardiovascular, strength, and conditioning" are important aspects for training which help work on stiffening joints and increasing bone density. "For the elderly, I recommend that they move their bodies. I don't use the term 'exercise' because it scares them," he says. "Make them do something fun that progresses to a passion, like line dancing."
Source: Line Dance, Bethesda Care Center
Madam Chong Kim Hai, who was in a wheelchair six-months ago, found it hard to walk because of back and leg pain caused by a narrowing of the joints in her spine. After months of guided training by a physiotherapist, the 87-year-old can now walk without pain or assistance for half an hour without stopping. She now attends aerobic and resistance training sessions at a Housing Board void deck and at the Gym Tonic outlets in her neighbourhood in Ang Mo Kio, under a programme set up by Touch Community Services.
While physical activity is important, so is building social connections. The founders of the Go for Your Mountain (GYM) Challenge, through Empower Ageing, hold classes on weekdays at the Cheng San Community Center in Ang Mo Kio where they see a regular group of elderly meet to workout together. After the classes, participants usually stay behind to socialize, or have a cup of coffee together. The network created through these classes not only improve retention rates to encourage regular exercise for these seniors, but also supplement physical health with mental health as well.
The increased awareness of the need to increase one's quality of life into his/her later years has spurred a movement of elderly who choose to wrestle with their limitations by building themselves up physically, yet there is a significant portion of older people who remain inactive. This could be attributed to unawareness of the programmes out there, or simply a loss in the drive and self-awareness to help oneself improve physical function.
But what can we do? With constant encouragement and assurance that we will be there with them in this journey, we can steer them in the right direction to regaining their fitness.
At the end of the day, the goal for most people is to finish life’s journey strong.
It’s time to get cracking.