Updated: Nov 11
Recently in Singapore the terms "longevity" and "healthspan" are becoming popular subjects both at our health practice and in conversation around dinner tables. With promising of biohacking and magical supplements, is there a a secret to healthy living that we don't know about? We think that the greatest value for wellbeing is to live one's best life, in health.
News reports and the media have promoted a number of articles on the subject, so we thought it might be useful to define some of the terms and see what needs to be done. Plus we discuss the value of longevity testing, what are key markers of health and longevity to look out for.
The Pillars of Health
We already know what are the key factors that will keep us healthy, vital and active both at present and in our final decade. This is also know as the marginal decade, when many people lose their ability to live well, their physical autonomy and independence. These factors are the known as the Pillars of Health:
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Having a healthy body mass index - BMI - is important. Note that the numbers are different if you are Caucasian or Asian. Asians can often be skinny fat, appearing normal weight but storing fat around their internal organs, often leading to type 2 diabetes. A healthy weight means having muscle mass and not too much fat mass. A little extra padding is OK if you are older, but too much fat in mid-life might stop you getting there. Health coaching is effective for long-term and sustainable weight loss.
Evidence supports the use of a whole food, plant-predominant diet to prevent, treat and reverse chronic illness. There is no single diet that is healthiest, various dietary approaches can be used often to address specific chronic health issues. Singapore is famous for its food, delicious delights (from hawkers to high end restaurants) are available almost 24/7. That being said, whatever one's ethnicity, traditional Singapore home cooked food has common dietary factors that can promote good health.
Regular, consistent physical activity is an important part of overall health and resiliency. This includes regular cardiovascular exercise and a minimum twice weekly strength building workout, in the gym, the park or at home. If you are up in the early morning it is common to see people practising tai chi for their health. Do whatever you enjoy doing.
Sitting in a time zone between Los Angeles and New York, expensive Singapore is famous for long working days and work-life imbalance. Managing negative stress can lessen anxiety, depression and immune dysfunction and leads to improved well-being. Meditation and breath work are popular options, as can be a mindful walk in the park.
Improving sleep quality can improve attention span, mood, insulin resistance and can reduce hunger, sluggishness and more. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of quality sleep per night.
Positive social connections have beneficial effects on physical, mental and emotional health. Do you have 3 good friends that you can count on?
Avoidance of Risky Substances
Use of tobacco and excessive alcohol consumption have been shown to increase risk of chronic diseases and death. If you enjoy a drink, consider a dry month to reset your health and your relationship with alcohol.
Another problem we face in Singapore, and not one of the Pillars of Health, is an extended festive season: all the way from October's Mid-Autumn festival (and its mooncakes) to Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year and the Chinese New Year in January. No end of partying, feasting and potential for weight gain.
It is now possible to receive a score, from a barrage of tests, that can tell you your biological age versus your age in number of years. These tests might include blood work, mobility and DNA tests to provide you with metrics on your health. Useful indeed, if you can afford it, especially if you want to have a current status check and track progress over time.
What are key indicators of health that apply to longevity, some of the key tests that can be done?
Apo B (Apolipoprotein B, blood test) A measure of your average cholesterol levels, as an indicator of risk for heart disease and stroke.
HbA1c (blood test) to understand average blood glucose levels.
HS-CRP / C Reactive Protein (blood test) an indicator for the risk of heart disease and stroke in people who are not already predisposed.
Vo2 max (running test) is the maximum amount of oxygen an individual can consume during peak exercise. It is primarily set by your genes however, maximising or maintaining Vo2max for as long as possible is important. HIIT training, a type of cardiovascular exercise, is very effective.
A set of weighing scales, with daily weighing, is a useful and inexpensive tool. Keep your weight within a healthy BMI.
DNA tests can provide some insight for specific health conditions but bear in mind that lifestyle affects health more than genes themselves. Most illnesses are not directly caused by deterministic genes but rather by risk genes. These might never get activated, turned on, unless your lifestyle habits flick the switch. For example, Alzheimer's disease risk is mainly caused by lifestyle.
So What Does It All Mean?
If you have the budget for expensive tests, or not, if you want to have a healthy lifespan - healthspan - you need to focus on self-care and apply the pillars of health to your life. .
Living in Singapore provides some advantages. The government are trying to engineer health into fabric of the city itself, a Blue Zone version 2. But to take responsibility for your own health and the steps to improve it requires implementing, on a long-term basis, the pillars of health into your own life.
The problem is that making change to one's habits, in a busy, hot and obesogenic environment (one that promotes weight gain) is difficult. For supporting lifestyle change, the value of health coaching for longevity is immeasurable and of particluer value in making sustainable change, be it for weight loss in other areas of health. By offering personalised guidance, addressing chronic illnesses, improving vitality, building resilience, and fostering long-term relationships, health coaching transforms lives.
Achieve your Health Goals
Your health, physical – mental – social - is complex and affected by multiple factors within and outside of your control. Our consults and programmes address the whole person, the root causes of ill health and maximising your health, performance & vitality.
Take the first step and arrange an introductory call. Contact us, by phone or WhatsApp, to discuss how we can support your journey to health. We are based in Singapore and work with clients globally.
Book a Whole Health Consult to assess, identify and prioritise key factors (known and unknown) that affect your health. And receive personalised recommendations on how to address them.
Want to put recommendations into action? Learn more about our programmes for individuals or teams.
Kaeberlein M. How healthy is the healthspan concept? Geroscience. 2018 Aug;40(4):361-364. doi: 10.1007/s11357-018-0036-9. Epub 2018 Aug 6. PMID: 30084059; PMCID: PMC6136295.
Drake JC, Yan Z. Targeting healthspan to optimally combat non-communicable disease in an aging world. Sports Med Health Sci. 2019 Sep 10;1(1):59-60. doi: 10.1016/j.smhs.2019.08.005. PMID: 35782460; PMCID: PMC9219309.