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Singaporeans are living longer, but health experts and the authorities want to shorten their years spent in ill health. There is potential for even more gains to be made through greater health literacy, diet and lifestyle changes as well as prevention of falls and urinary tract infections, said experts.

A common misperception is that people need to pay attention to their health only at a later stage in life, said Professor Brian Kennedy, Distinguished Professor from NUS Medicine’s Departments of Biochemistry and Physiology. Ideally, lifestyle changes should be made in anticipation of ageing from as early as 45, he said. These include healthier diets, more exercise and the reduction of stressors.

Years of ill health take a toll not only on individuals, but also the healthcare system.

“We should be focusing on health care, not sick care, in which case focusing on prevention, screening and identifying (diseases) at an early stage before they give rise to catastrophic disability,” said Associate Professor Reshma Merchant, Division Head of Geriatric Medicine at NUS Medicine. For instance, having a blood test to check for diabetes and to intervene early on is more affordable than multiple hospital visits to treat the condition at a later stage.

Choosing a healthy diet and engaging in regular exercise will also benefit everyone’s health.

Tempeh, tofu and lentils are examples of affordable food rich in nutrients and protein, said Assoc Prof Merchant.

Regular exercise is just as important. Resistance, balance and strength training can build muscle bulk and strength, she added.

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