Education, exercise to age well

I grow old… I grow old . . .
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
– TS Eliot

SINGAPORE Chinese men become sickly, weak and grouchy when they grow old. In the words of healthcare experts, they don’t “age well”, like wine turning into vinegar!

In June 2009, the National University of Singapore’s psychological medicine department  conducted a survey of 1,300 Chinese men who were 65 and older. It found that seven in 10 of them did not age well because they were in poor physical condition. Their ailments affect their movement so that they could not live independently.

And the chief cause? Lack of exercise and lack of physical activity, says associate professor Ng Tze Pin of the department, who presented the findings at a symposium on health-care for an aging population.

Four factors contribute to aging well:
• Better, continual education
• Regular physical exercise
• Proper, nutritional diet
• Spiritual beliefs and consolation


The better educated you are, the more likely that you live a healthier, longer life. This has been the consistent finding in survey after survey of aging populations in the United States and Europe in the past several decades.

While experts are still debating the precise reason for this phenomenon, you might as well go and sign up for more courses of study, regardless of how old you are.


Follow the example of Minister in charge of aging issues Lim Boon Heng, himself approaching 62 (in 2009), who signed up  for a gym membership, with two other friends. “It is tough for a person to change his lifestyle if his family and friends don’t do so,” he says. “Some mornings, I wake up and go to the gym because my friends are there.”

So, what are you waiting for? Instead of shuffling your way desolately to the kopitiam (neighbourhood coffee shop) for your morning kopi, round up a few friends and go to the gym. Many community centres offer gym membership at minimal fees.

Eating & drinking

It’s common and depressing to see old men with pot bellies sitting in kopitiams with bottles of beer by their side, and the beer girl caressing their shoulders to encourage them to drink more.

All alcohol is toxic to the body, whether it is beer, wine, brandy or whisky. As one ages, one’s immune system weakens, and pouring alcohol will only make it worse. And yet, there are old folks who waste good money poisoning themselves.

As for food, plain but nutritious meals are best, with little or no meat and lots of green. Lord Buddha – one of the fittest and wisest men even in old age – said one factor for his longevity and general good health was that he ate once a day, just enough to energise himself for the day’s activities.

One meal a day may be a bit too spartan. OK, eat two hearty meals a day:  breakfast and a noonday meal, and a light snack in the evening.

Engaging life, enduring values

People with enduring spiritual beliefs also tend to age more successfully, says Prof Ng, because spiritual help seems to be a source of emotional and mental support.
Continue to engage with friends, with relatives, with children and grandchildren, is another strategy to age well.

When you retire, don’t withdraw from active life. Modern technology tools – the radio and TV,  the Internet and the mobile phone – have made it easier for old folks to stay connected to everybody else.

Take part in social and community activities. Play mahjong, sign up for cooking classes and day tours, and learn Tai Chi movement to keep your body supple.
“Old folks must and can continue to find ways to continue to be meaningful and active. Find a community to engage in, and pursue new learning and interests,” says Dr Tian Cheong Sing, executive director of the Centre for Living Effectively at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre.

Keeping fit, mentally & financially

Old age is not a gift, unless you have sufficient cash, medical benefits and, above all, you still have your “marbles” with you.

If your mind is gone, your family and friends are scarcer by the day, and your cash flow is drying up, then age becomes a physical burden to you and to others, especially to others. For despite whatever brave, consoling words we may utter about caring for someone, we cannot hide the fact that an old, infirmed individual really a burden.

I think it’s our duty when we are still relatively young, to train and develop our mind in concentration, stability, insight, and clarity, as well as to keep ourselves physically fit (not merely flaccidly healthy), so that we minimise whatever burden we may impose on our family and friends as we age.

The most effective way to keep our mind sharp, clear and alert is to sit in mindfulness meditation, following techniques taught by Lord Buddha himself.

This applies to financial fitness as well.

Old age is no fun but with cash, at least we are assured of a warm bed, an airconditioned home and plenty of dessert after each meal! And when we get really, really old, there are kindly nurses and pleasant attendants in a well-appointed old folks home to give us physical care round-the-clock.


Exercising at the East Coast Parkway, Singapore, April 9, 2016