We are all getting older by the day. We can’t run away from it. The World Health Organisation (WHO) is projecting that 1 in 5 individuals would be 60 years or older by 2050. Whether we like it or not, we have to accept the fact that we are going through these long phases of biological changes in our lives.
During the recently concluded 9th International Conference on Traditional and Complementary Medicine (INTRACOM) 2019 in Malaysia with a theme “Integrated Approach Towards Healthy Ageing”, many renowned international and regional speakers spoke at length about healthy ageing. Apart from applying and adopting Traditional and Complementary Medicine (T&CM) alongside modern medicine, as part of good health practices, self-care and empowerment, we also need to give emphasis on healthy living. I believe healthy living is the key to healthy ageing, which encompasses four main aspects - physical, mental, spiritual and social – that you need to embrace collectively.
Physical and mental well-being are directly linked to what we eat and drink everyday. When it comes to food, there are a handful of ingredients - carbohydrates, fat, and protein - that we absolutely need to survive and continue living healthily. We have to watch what we eat. We need to have a “mindful eating” culture that eventually will change the bad eating habits that we have been practising all along. Consuming low sugar, low salt, and a healthy variety of nutrients would do us good in the long run.
Consuming raw ulam/vegetable is a common traditional healthy diet due to their health-promoting properties. These plant materials contains phytochemical content and antioxidant activity, which are good nutrients for our body. Such plants include pegaga (centella asiatica, pennywort), ulam raja (cosmos caudatus, King’s salad), mentimun (cucumis sativus, cucumber), kacang botor (psophocarpus tetragonolobus, winged bean) and petai (parkia speciosa, bitter bean), which can be consumed raw and fresh, steamed, boiled, pickled or mixed with other ingredients.
Eating well should be our daily practice to reduce the risk of any chronic disease. As we aged, we have to place importance on understanding the repercussion of non-communicable diseases (NCD) and preventing it from occuring and affecting our quality of life. In 2013, NCDs accounted for more than 70% of disease burden in Malaysia! According to the 2015 The National Health and Morbidity Survey (NHMS), about two-thirds of Malaysians have at least one of three NCDs, i.e. diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension) or high cholesterol levels (hypercholesterolaemia). Healthy lifestyle is deemed important in reducing the risk of hypertension, diabetes, stroke and heart diseases. We have the ability to control such risks by putting some control measures on our lifestyle. It’s about time that Malaysians as a nation starts to adopting and practising promotive, predictive and preventive approaches rather than practising curative medicine when treating diseases.
Mental wellness is also key to healthy ageing. A key aspect of this is to have your “ikigai” (a reason for being) that embodies the idea of happiness to make life worth living and for having a purpose in life. The Japanese, known to live longer, have been practising the ikigai philosophy in some aspects of their lives. For example, the Japanese are emphasising on healthy diet, doing regular movement/exercise and having friends and actively involved in community activities. These are all the ingredients for healthy living.
Most of us would choose to have a happy and healthy life when growing old. You need to have these two elements working cohesively side-by-side. A group of researchers from the University College in London conducted a study which showed that happy people were more robust and fit. That shows how important it is to lead a happy life to reap the benefits of growing old. If you are reaching 50 now and are embarking on healthy living regime, the bad news is that healthy ageing starts from younger age! But it’s never too late to start leading a healthy living even at that age.
Essentially, there are two major factors for healthy life expectancy i.e. improving lifestyle habit and engaging in social contributions. In Japan, there is an initiative to create a 100-year life society which all citizens are dynamically engaged. Plans include having "recurrent education" and “elderly employment” to enable them to continue contributing economically. In South Korea, the government has been embarking on Silver Towns (purpose-built towns for elderly people), integrated with smart technologies, to manage its fast aging population. These retirement villages promote “active ageing” where the residents are encouraged to participate in social, economic, cultural, spiritual and civic affairs. These should give our older generation some ideas on how to become actively involved in society. Even our Prime Minister himself, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, has urged the older generation to remain active and continue working, even after the retirement age. So, there you go!
On similar note, our government has to continue promoting healthy lifestyle as a daily agenda thus preventing our population from suffering disability and premature deaths due to NCDs. We are pleased to learn that the government is taking a lead from the framework for ageing and health designed by WHO in terms of fostering age-friendly environments, promoting healthy ageing, and reorienting health systems. This is evident as the government is collaborating with the United Nations Development Programme to develop an "age-friendly city" as part of their effort to create a friendly environment for the wellbeing of older folks.
Their commitment is further realised with plans to establish close to 30 new activity centres nationwide to encourage senior citizens’ community participation. When designing these friendly cities and activity centres, urban planners will need to carefully plan for the creation of inclusive neighbourhoods that encourages walk ability and promotes accessibility in public spaces, and technology installation for ageing-in-place. In the same effort, we hope the government will look into providing more social care services when developing the long-term model for elderly care.
With all the efforts being planned and put in place, we as individuals have a role to play in contributing positively towards our wellbeing. Stay focus on your ikigai by staying active, don’t retire, don’t fill your stomach, get in shape, surround yourself with good friends, smile more, reconnect with nature, give thanks, and live in the moment. In the end, we can age gracefully and naturally.
Kushairi Lotfi is a director and partner at Aleevar Consulting Sdn Bhd.
He currently leads business development activities in the financial services, government agencies and SME sector.