There are places around the world where people tend to live long, healthy and fulfilling lives that last well over a century.
American longevity researcher and author Dan Buettner calls these longevity hotspots blue zones, and he’s dedicated the past 20 years of his life to uncovering their secrets.
His research previously yielded five blue zones: Nicoya, a city in Costa Rica; Loma Linda, the United States’ mecca for healthy living in California; Ikaria, a secluded Greek island home to just 8,500 people; sun-soaked Sardinia, an island in Italy; and the beautiful island of Okinawa, Japan.
The longevity researcher was full of praise for the city, which was spotlighted on the final episode of the four-part docuseries.
Read on to find out what the longevity expert believes Singapore is doing right – and what we still have to learn from other Blue Zones.
Rather than genetic differences, Dan’s findings suggested that each of his original five blue zones naturally boosted the longevity of its residents by making healthy habits the easiest, best choice.
Not so for Singapore, which got the moniker of “Blue Zone 2.0” for its unique standing as a manufactured Blue Zone, where longevity-boosting activities were incited through a combination of government policies and infrastructure development.
He lauded healthier eating policies like The Ministry of Health’s war on sugar-sweetened beverages, including bans on ads, warning labels and other restrictions, as well as the Health Promotion Board’s Healthier Choice Symbol that nudged residents to identify and choose healthier food and drink options.
Dan also praised the Certificate of Entitlement (COE) system for regulating car ownership, which, in tandem with a robust and convenient public transport system and a plethora of manmade parks, would facilitate more daily walking.
Families with adult children are encouraged to live with, or within 4km of each other, by the Housing & Development Board’s Proximity Housing Grant. The high level of home ownership, he says, also means that Singapore residents tend to “invest in their neighbours”, creating a “better community”.
The longevity researcher spotlighted the Kampung Admiralty integrated development in his documentary, likening it to villages in other blue zones with a mix of residential apartments, greenery and public facilities like a medical centre in close proximity.
This provides not only convenience for residents, said Dan, but also facilitates frequent, casual interactions in their everyday routines.
Dan covers three of his so-called “Power 9” longevity-boosting lifestyle habits in the episode on Singapore.
This doesn’t mean we’re necessarily missing the other six elements.
That said, the remaining five are up for debate:
Among Dan’s six Blue Zones, the little red dot sticks out. As an urban metropolis, we don’t quite have the same laid-back, rural flavour of the other five spots.
Gardening in Singapore, for example, mostly happens in designated community plots between high-rise flats – or in little pots on the windowsill. Walking as well is largely carried out on well-manicured paths.
It is rather amusing to see a foreign perspective on Singapore that is unreservedly positive, even for policies like the COE (which no freedom-loving American would abide with), and without the usual musings that our little red dot is a well-oiled machine with caning for vandalism and a draconian ban on chewing gum.
In any case, shooting for longevity alone should never be the priority. It is how well one’s years are lived that matter most, not how long – though a glass of wine at 5 every evening never hurt anybody.