Updated: 1 day ago
We’ve been fans of Dan Buettner’s work for a long time now, so to hear him bestow ‘engineered Blue Zone’ status on Singapore brought a smile to our faces. While he may have had some people perplexed by this, one cannot argue that the government have gone to great lengths to engineer the physical environment for health and well-being.
If you are not familiar with Singapore, this equatorial island nation is a densely populated city of around 6 million, 45km west to east and 25km north to south. The entire country is smaller than London, Paris or Los Angeles.
Looking on a smaller scale, with regards to urban planning, the government has paid meticulous detail to providing facilities for physical, and social, health in neighbourhoods across the island. Within 800 metres of our apartment, in a typical Singapore suburb, we enjoy access to numerous well maintained public facilities:
2x Community Gardens, with plots for local residents to grow edible plants.
5x Fitness Corners. Outdoor calisthenics ‘gyms’. Some feature equipment dedicated to the elderly population, as well as the usual pull-up bars etc.
1x Basketball court
2x Multi-Purpose courts. Open areas for ad hoc activities, for example, pickle ball or tai chi.
2x Neighbourhood parks, well-lit and maintained.
3x Children’s playgrounds.
Access to the Park Connector Network. An island wide network of paths for walking, running and cycling. These are usually located alongside the drainage canals that crisscross Singapore, many have been extensively landscaped.
Despite the heat and humidity and the occasional tropical torrential downpour, the opportunity for physical health abounds. Not mentioned in the above list are gyms and sports facilities at community centres local or recreational SAFRA centres, for those that have completed national (military) service. Essentially all adult males (in Singapore service is compulsory) and their spouses can join.
Everyone has the opportunity to access physical health, if not for free then for a dime. Or even at commercial (private) clubs and gyms, or within their condominiums.
The engineered environment can nudge the people to health. As can government linked mobile phone health and activity apps, that provide supermarket subsidies for food. HOWEVER, it takes people to take real action, for themselves. To make the decision to get moving in a meaningful manner, to make use of the Fitness Corners, to improve eating practices (for some household there is already a good base to start from) and to gain long-term health. This is where we, at the Whole Health Practice, dedicate our time and efforts to partner with our clients, for their physical, mental and social well-being.
While small nudges on a population level do make a difference, it’s going to take a lot more work to make real change. And for that, of course, the government is already taking action with the Queenstown Pilot Health District, to focus on residents’ holistic well-being and healthspan.
Akan Datang, Wait and See
Read our review of the Blue Zones book here.
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Buettner D, Skemp S. Blue Zones: Lessons From the World's Longest Lived. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2016 Jul 7;10(5):318-321. doi: 10.1177/1559827616637066. PMID: 30202288; PMCID: PMC6125071.