A “Blue Zone” of Our Own: Rahayu Mahzam and Henry Kwek

02/10/2023

Dan Buettner, the famed National Geographic fellow and best-selling author of Blue Zones, spent two decades traveling the world, researching the happiest and healthiest city for two decades.  In his recent Netflix series:  Live to 100: Secrets of the Blue Zone, Dan, to the surprise of many, declared Singapore as the world’s 6th Blue Zone. 

His declaration certainly raised eyebrows. How can Singapore, consistently ranked as a top tier global city, with our harried pace of life, be a Blue Zone?  Aren’t Blue Zones idyllic oases brimming with fit and health-conscious, organic produce-eating people? Because that is certainly the image when we think of other Blue Zones such as Sardinia, Italy, or Okinawa, Japan!

But consider this. Our life expectancy averages about 83 years old, and it will continue to rise.  Our centenarians have doubled to 1,500 in the last decade. In the future, living to 100 could be more of a norm, less of an exception. The numbers do add up. 

Source: Rahayu Mahzam / Facebook

And this is no coincidence. For decades, successive generations of PAP leaders have empowered Singaporeans to age purposefully and with dignity. In 2013, PAP set up the Seniors Group to shape a positive agenda on aging.  At its inception, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, “The PAP Seniors Group is an interest group, not a group of old people. It is a group which will champion elderly causes.”

What were these ‘elderly causes’? In the community, we were hearing how the aspirations of Singaporean seniors were gradually evolving. Many shared concerns about whether they would be afforded legal protection should they, as seniors, choose to continue contributing in the workforce; others hoped to be able to live in close vicinity of their adult children and families; or simply to have physical and financial independence in their silver years.     

Engineering our “Blue Zone 2.0”

As we mark the United Nations International Day of Older People, and the PAP Seniors Group’s 10th anniversary this year, let us take stock of what has been achieved, and what more we can do for ageing in the years ahead.

In describing Singapore, Dan Buettner, referred to us as “Blue Zone 2.0” or the next frontier of aging. He noted that Singapore has achieved this status through deliberate, sustained change over time. Indeed, over the past decade, we have very intentionally engineered what ageing means for Singaporeans — in response to, and with full respect, for their changing aspirations.

We invested heavily in medical care — building more hospitals, training more healthcare workers, and strengthening our subsidy and healthcare insurance frameworks. We increased the career runway for our seniors. We encouraged our seniors to stay active and fit, and built senior-friendly recreational areas. We pioneered purpose-built senior-friendly housing, such as the new Community Care Apartments, and enhanced Active Ageing Centers, where seniors gather.  We multiplied our outreach to the seniors, through the Senior Generation Office, the SG Digital Office, and Integrated Public Service Centers.

We are determined to continue making this a reality for the silver generations of tomorrow.

An enhanced built environment at the Queenstown Health District for residents’ well-being

Source: HDB

One manifestation of BlueZone 2.0 in action is the Queenstown Health District pilot. This pilot is meant to be a model of healthy and active community for all ages. Stakeholders across the public, private and people sectors are brought together to build the ecosystem and infrastructure aimed to support residents’ well-being across their life stages. This effort taps on expertise both locally and internationally and involves inter alia, improving the planning and design of the HDB environment which can help residents make healthier choices, encouraging purposeful longevity where there will be opportunities for seniors to work, volunteer, and participate in lifelong learning and developing affordable and useable technology to help residents better care for their health.

To tomorrow’s seniors: We’ve got your back

In 2022, following the pandemic, we rolled out Healthier SG, the largest healthcare reform in decades, because preventive health is key to living long and well. Our Prime Minister recently announced the Majulah Package to strengthen the retirement adequacy of our Young Seniors and beyond, and unveiled AgeWell SG to help our seniors to age well in our homes and communities.  And even as we lean forward, we mitigate our seniors’ concern of the day — the rising cost of living — through various mesures such the S$1.1B support package announced last week by Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong.  

Source: Henry Kwek / Facebook

These comprehensive programmes are the results of successive PAP governments that listen, as well as the tireless advocacy of PAP MPs — many of whom served with the PAP Seniors Group.

More importantly, we are also a Party of Action. In the months ahead, we will — with our usual lightning efficiency — share a road map for our activists to help our seniors, by connecting them to Government services and community programs. We will create a culture of 3Rs: a Regard, Respect, and Recognition mindset towards our fellow senior Singaporeans, something that Comrade Tan See Leng, Chairperson of PAP Seniors Group has called for.

For decades, our Party has catalysed a Singapore that transforms permanent disadvantage into sustained advantages. We can and must do so even in the face of the Silver Tsunami, and unlock the benefits that wisdom brings. 

Comrade Rahayu Mahzam and Comrade Henry Kwek

On behalf of PAP Seniors Group