Diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol are some of the most widespread chronic medical conditions in Singapore, in addition to cardiovascular disease. In 2019, cardiovascular disease accounted for 29.3% of all deaths in Singapore, which means that almost one in three deaths is caused by heart disease or stroke.
Prescription medications may be powerful in addressing symptoms of lifestyle illnesses, but they don’t eliminate unhealthy habits like smoking, stress, inadequate exercise and poor nutrition, which cause these diseases in the first place.
Indeed, your lifestyle habits have a direct effect on your overall health and well-being. According to Dr Tan Svenszeat, a cardiologist at Orchard Heart Specialist Clinic, “The more time and effort we focus on certain aspects in life, the more this aspect will grow and flourish. This certainly applies to our health and well-being. With habitual and constant effort to maintain a healthy lifestyle, our health and well-being will always be at its optimal state. This power to prevent diseases lies in your hands.”
But do Singaporeans see health as an individual issue?
In January 2020, we asked Singaporeans whose responsibility it was to help curb rising healthcare costs. The result: 63% believed the responsibility lay with the government, while only 12% believed that “individual responsibility” should play a part. But as Dr Tan suggests, Singaporeans may actually have greater control to turn things around than they think. “By simply changing their habits, Singaporeans can take charge of their health and protect themselves and their family from chronic illnesses, severe disabilities and other medical conditions that could lead to mounting psychological and financial costs,” he says.
Increased visits to the doctor for various reasons, coupled with factors such as a willingness to spend on healthcare services even if it’s not necessary, can cause medical costs to skyrocket for the entire population. The responsibility of keeping healthcare costs manageable then, rests far more with the individual than most Singaporeans think.
One of the best ways to keep your health – and healthcare costs – in check is by keeping illnesses at bay. As they say, prevention is better than cure.
So, start the new year on a healthier note with these four lifestyle changes that’ll not only benefit your overall health in the short term, but are simple enough to be sustainable for the long-term.
Opt for healthier meals at your favourite hawker centre
Resisting the temptation to choose indulgence over health from the endless choices at hawker centres can be hard. But not all hawker food is loaded with sodium and greasy fat. Look out for the “healthier choice” symbol, which indicates that healthier amounts of oil and salt are used to make meals or that more nutritious meals are offered by adding green leafy vegetables and choosing whole grain alternatives that can help reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease and obesity. This simple habit is much more sustainable than a fad diet as it gives you long-lasting health benefits without having to drastically eliminate your favourite foods from your life.
Put your phone away before bed
For most of us, the day begins and ends with our phone screens. But this seemingly harmless practice can have a big impact on your overall health. There is mounting evidence that the blue light emitted by cell phones not only makes you more alert, but inhibits the production of melatonin, the hormone responsible for regulating your sleep cycles. Not getting enough sleep increases the risk of heart disease and obesity, while also compromising your immunity, memory and mood. So while it can be hard to ignore those pop-up notifications, keep the long term consequences in mind and put your phone away – preferably on do not disturb mode – at least 30 minutes before you hit the sack.
Spend more time outdoors
Yes, you’ve heard this time and again – from your parents, doctors, or perhaps you’ve even said it to your own kids. And no wonder! Spending time outdoors has been consistently proven to be good for the mind, body and soul. From getting more vitamin D and exercise, to improving your vision and curbing depression – being outdoors is nature’s gift that keeps on giving. Lucky for us, we live in Singapore, a city with one of the highest forest densities in the world, making it even easier to build a regular habit of walking in a nature park or exploring hidden hiking trails. Even a quick outdoor swim can decrease blood pressure, stress hormones and symptoms of anxiety and is an excellent way to maintain a healthy heart while boosting energy levels.
Increasing connectivity to the internet has put information and advice on all matters related to health and wellbeing at our fingertips. But while it may seem easier to rely on Google rather than consult a medical practitioner, it can be extremely dangerous to base health decisions on information that doesn’t take into account your individual medical history. A more practical habit would be to stay updated on your health insurance plans and the healthcare benefits that you’re entitled to, so you can get professional health advice when you need it.
Surprisingly, nearly half (46%) of the respondents to Aviva’s 2020 Health Survey said they were unaware that their Integrated Shield Plan has a panel of medical specialists they can consult at preferred outpatient fees.
So, stay informed and the next time you’re tempted to google your symptoms, speak to a doctor instead so you can clarify your doubts and follow a prescribed treatment plan that’s shaped around your individual healthcare needs.
Read more about Aviva’s Panel Specialists and the benefits at www.aviva.com.sg/en/insurance/life-and-health/medicalspecialists/.