Your attitude towards ageing matters

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Increasing the amount of physical activity that you do cuts the risk of dementia by as much as 60%, when combined with a healthy lifestyle which includes cutting out nicotine and and cutting down on alcohol.

Recent research now explains that exercise is the key to ageing successfully because physical activity keeps your brain healthy. A 2015 study reveals that older adults (their participants were Japanese men aged 60 to 74 years) are more likely to use the same part of the brain for tasks requiring cognitive control (such as the Stroop test — you can try it here) as young adults if they are physically fitter; those with less fitness use more parts of their brain to perform the same task. Another 2015 study also finds that brain atrophy can be reversed among healthy older adults and those with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) through moderate intensity exercise.

But exercise is only half the equation. It’s also important to give your brain opportunities to grow new neural connections. The notion that healthy ageing involves giving yourself cognitively demanding tasks (see our earlier blog post) gets more support from a 2016 study. Building on earlier findings, this study demonstrates that mentally challenging activities – such as learning digital photography or quilting or learning both – produces greater improvements in memory than low hanging fruit, like travel and cooking activities for which participants are not required to learn something new.

It doesn’t do any harm to also increase healthy foods, specifically green vegetables, walnuts, curries, and omega-3 foods like eggs, bananas, dark chocolate, avocado, and blueberries, which have been found to reduce the risk of cognitive decline with age.

But it might surprise you to find out that social connections also have a powerful effect on your health. A 2016 study finds that having a larger social network is crucial for health during late, as well as early, adulthood. Seniors not in social isolation achieve better scores on health markers which include blood pressure, body mass index, and a measure of systemic inflammation.

And that your beliefs about ageing can also be impactful. A 2015 study finds that people who hold negative beliefs (e.g., “elderly people are decrepit”) are more likely to subsequently experience brain changes associated with Alzheimer’s dementia.

Just something to think about as the planets line up on this full moon.

5 Places to Visit When You’re Feeling Stressed

5 Places to De-stress in Singapore

It’s finally the holidays! Hooray!

You’ve finally managed to get 5 minutes to yourself. To arrange to catch up with some friends. To space out over lunch with your colleagues. To sleep in on the weekend. To enjoy the commute now that the roads are pleasantly clear, even during peak hours.

Right about now, you might be thinking about how you can to reset your balancing act of juggling work and life. And re-charge yourself.

There’s plenty of research about what helps us adapt well in the face of life’s challenges. What helps us bounce back when we experience set-backs, things that cause emotional upheavals, even the minor intrusions onto our otherwise happy demeanor. Factors which help include being able to make realistic plans and carry them out, knowing what your strengths and abilities are, being aware and able to manage your emotions, and having problem solving skills (from The Road to Resilience: APA).

But It also helps if you also make the effort on a regular basis to manage your stress levels. That means spending time in green spaces, getting regular exercise and building physical activity in our routine, spending quality time on strengthening social connections with our families and friends, creating time for relaxation routines (yes, even walking around the neighbourhood counts), and investing in creative pastimes, even if it’s a passive appreciation of culture and natural history.

Here are some ideas to kick start your journey! Not only can you do all of the above if you go with your family and friends, but you’ll be glad you went because these gems won’t be here at for very long:

1. Biddadari
This 93ha leafy ex-cemetery, which currently is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna including butterflies, birds, squirrels, and tembusu trees, will become a housing estate with the the first underground air-conditioned bus interchange on the island in a few years. Visit this forgotten woodland to see rarely sighted birds like the Oriental scops owl, Blue-winged pitta, and Indian cuckoo, as well as regular residents like the Lineated Barbet and the Finlayson or variable squirrel, which can only be found in the area.

Getting there: The forest is next to Mount Vernon. Exit at Woodleigh MRT or take bus number 100, 135, or 155 and stop on Upper Aljunied Road.

2. Bukit Brown
An eclectic and fascinating collection of Chinese graves which include those of well-known figures from the early immigrant local Chinese community is just one feature of this 233ha sprawling cemetery. Take a tour through history at this heritage site (maps available at bukitbrown.org), or enjoy the melodious song of the Straw-headed bulbul and White-rumped sharma and agile antics of the Common tailorbird and White-breasted Kingfisher at this urban oasis (find out more the birds at Bukit Brown here).

Getting there: Bus services 52, 74, 93, 157, 165, 852, and 855 will get you to Adam Road. Head for Sime Road and the main entrance is after Lor Halwa. If you’re driving there, Lor Halwa can also be accessed through University Road (off Dunearn Road), which continues as Kheam Hock Road.

3. Pulau Ubin
Current plans to protect the diverse wildlife and eroding shoreline mean that this island should stay a haven for flora and fauna for a while. But the ever-changing landscape in Singapore (including her smaller islands) also serves as a reminder that it’s good to enjoy the kampung feeling at this small island while it’s here.

Seagrasses, coral, and the Horseshoe crab and Fiddler crab are among the natives to be found among the mangrove trees during low tide at Chek Jawa. Visit House No. 1 just inside the entrance to Chek Jawa for a good view of the only remaining fireplace in Singapore. And you might just find a toothless wild boar trying to make friends with your food near Chek Jawa.

Getting there: Take a bum boat from Changi Jetty for $2.50 (each way) and hire a bicycle when you get to the island.

4. Kampung Lor Buangkok
Current renovations are under way for some of the houses at the last kampung on the island. Visit this 1.22ha village to relive a forgotten era with their free-range chickens (although you can also spend all day peering at the freely roaming and magnificent jungle fowl at Pasir Ris Park if you’re than keen on chickens) and idle your afternoon away on a tree swing.

Getting there: The kampung is at 7 Lor Buangkok. Bus services 70, 103, and 854 take you to Yio Chu Kang Road. Stop at the bus stop near Church of St Vincent de Paul and cross the overhead bridge to the kampung.

5. Lim Chu Kang and Kranji farms
The lease for farming land in Lim Chu Kang will expire in a few years’ time. So that means, that the Lim Chu Kang farms may not be there for very long. But you can visit existing ones that have invested in sustainable farming along the Kranji Countryside. Their regular farmer’s market offers an enticing smorgasbord of locally made jams, chutneys, nut butters, sambals, and herb plants and seeds. The trees in the area are also home to industrious yellow-headed Baya weavers during the nesting season, while the otters and kingfishers at Sungei Buloh are only a stone’s throw away in the same neighbourhood.

Getting there: Bus service 975 will leave you at Lim Chu Kang Road. The farms at Neo Tiew Crescent are a bright and sunny 30min walk away. The nature reserve is best accessed on bus service 925 which stops on Neo Tiew Crescent, soon after the bridge on Kranji Way.

So, get out and enjoy the fresh air!

Happy National Day!

Forty-nine today! Other than celebrating by doing all the nationalistic things like eating, shopping, and movie-watching, brainstorming for 50th celebration ideas, indulging in a staycation, it’s also a good time to think about the ways in which you can rebalance your work and life.

Happy Birthday, Singapore!

Here are 4 ideas to get you started:

1. Make use of technology
Smart phones and tablets aren’t just for surfing the net, checking email and facebook, messaging, reading, and playing games. They’re also good platforms for helping us keep diaries about how much we sleep, whether we’re getting our daily recommended allowance of vitamins and fruits and veggies, and for tracking our thoughts and emotions. Apple recommends these apps to help us stay fit and maintain healthy eating, while Google has a list of 10 free health and fitness apps. And these mental health apps (mostly free) come highly recommended by PsychCentral.

2. Use household shortcuts
There are ways to get the house cleaned without spending the whole weekend on it. Unless you enjoy it, that is. If not, these life hack websites have good solutions for tidying, cooking, and other household chores. And here’s a few more.

3. Get a hobby
One way to ensure guarantee that you get off work on time is to have a hobby. There is research evidence to support it: Employees with a creative hobby are more productive at work than peers without one. Try light painting (night photography) with the fireworks on display this Saturday at the Esplanade or Clifford Pier: Nat Geo has useful tips. Here’s a list of useful websites for those relocating to Singapore, and some recreation resources for those looking for something different. Secret Singapore also has ideas for those wanting to try something really new.

4. Spend time with family and friends
Out of ideas of what to do on the weekend? Tired of meeting friends over brunch and high tea? Try an activity instead. There’s lots going on in the coming months!

Happy Eco Day!

It’s World Environment Day!

Happy Eco Day!

Last year’s theme was Think.Eat.Save – a message about food wastage. This year’s event coincides with the Singapore International Water Week. We can take this opportunity to reduce the carbon footprint at the office. It’s also a good time to take stock:

1. Going Green

  • Use canvas and cloth bags at the office and supermarket.
  • Use double-printing and recycle the other side when you print single-sided.
  • Stack a bunch of used A5 envelopes and use them like a notepad.
  • Use shredded paper for fragile packaging.
  • Switch to mugs and real cutlery. Or use biodegradable cornware. Or bring home and wash for a second cycling of non-biodegradable plastic cups and cutlery.
  • Save the extra paper napkins you inadvertently took at Starbucks for a rainy day.
  • Ask the auntie at the hawker centre to pack your food in your own tupperware.
  • Bring your own flask to take away your favourite teh halia.
  • Fill your own tumbler of boiled water instead of buying distilled or purified water!
  • Encourage your office canteen to use paper boxes instead of plastic ones.

2. Staying on top of things at the office

  • Here’s a checklist to help you get organized at the office.
  • 20 useful tips from Real Simple to help you declutter efficiently.
  • Pininterest illustrates the ways to stop things from straying from their place.
  • A little thought goes a long way: 10 office decluttering tricks
  • Having difficulty organizing your office space? Here are 21 tips.

3. Shortcuts to keeping things tidy at home

4. Self-help for would-be hoarders

It’s good time to reorganize, reflect, recycle!

Happy Earth Day!

It’s World Earth Day today!

Happy World Earth Day!

This time last year we were decreasing our light pollution at Earth Hour and dressing down at the office to stay cool with less air-conditioning. With all the lights switched off on the little red dot, it’s a good time to spend time with family and friends in ways that we used to know:

1. It’s a good night for star gazing!

  • Take out your camera and leave your shutter on bulb setting. You could try light painting with the fast moving traffic and floating kites from Marina Barrage. Or you could take some night shots of the city skyline and Marina Bay Sands. Bring along some oven-roasted curry puffs and samosas, dim sum, and a flask of tea to keep you going through the evening.
  • Picnic under the stars on Fort Canning. You don’t have to do this only once a year for Shakespeare in the Park. Cart your baguette, Edam, cabernet sauvignon, smoked salmon canapes, bruschetta, and grapes to the green to gaze at the stars. Don’t forget your mat, repellent, and fan!
  • Organize a small soiree at the Symphony Lake in the Singapore Botanic Gardens. Pack your own home-baked date-and-figgy pudding, a flask of homemade hot chocolate, a handful of hazelnuts and almonds, for an evening with the croaking frogs, chirping nightjars, and hooting owls.

2. Spend time with people you care about

  • Switch off your apps and chill out.
  • Spend time catching up with friends.
  • Play jenga, taboo, settlers, or monopoly (the card game version) to keep the energetic amused, with some konnyaku jelly on standby to keep your energy up!

3. Be a tourist in your own country

  • Explore Little India. Buy your brinjal (aubergine, eggplant) at the night market on the streets of Dunlop, Dickson, and Campbell Lane. Enjoy the peranakan-themed tiles on the houses on Petain Road.
  • Wander around Haji Lane and Arab Street like a tourist. The mini antique toy musuem on Arab Street will make you all nostalgic and gooey, while having to explain the toys to your little ones at the Mint – Musuem of Toys at Seah Street not far away will make you feel knowledgeable and wise (yes, and old).
  • Appreciate the juxtaposition of Sri Mariammam Temple, Jamae (Chulia) Mosque, on Pagoda Street and Buddha Tooth Relic Temple in Chinatown.
  • Join the Night Safari at the Zoo (again)! It’s a good night as any to see the leopard, tigers, fishing cat, tapir, and Sambar deer.

Along with stress management strategies, exercise, even if it’s only walking around the neighbourhood or exploring a toy musuem, is a helpful way to manage your stress. Make time to reconnect with your friends, family, your environment and yourself. It’s good for your mental wellbeing!

4 Things Every Woman Should Do And Know

It appears that we currently lack information about the effects of medications and dosage recommendations which are appropriate for women (see this recent report from HealthDay News). But there are many other aspects of women’s mental and physical health for which much information is available, but for which awareness is often lacking. With International Women’s Day just a day away, we propose four things you can do to get up to speed this weekend:

1. Build your professional and social network

Research supports the role of a social network for mental wellbeing at the workplace and at home. The New Zealand Chamber of Commerce has an “Inspiring Change – International Women’s Day 2014” breakfast networking event aimed at inspiring personal and career growth held at Raffles Hotel on Monday, 10 March 2014, while the Singapore Committee for UN Women has a “I am fabulous and I inspire change” cocktail networking event at the Grand Park Orchard on March 6th. Those seeking inspiration can join a sharing session with Dr Aline Wong as part of the “Be inspired, create positive change” campaign by WINGS.

All this might be a bit much for the person who doesn’t really like talking to strangers. Joining an interest group like the Nature Society will open doors to opportunities for making new friends. Gym membership, signing up for a language, dance, painting, or pottery class, and volunteering with animal shelters will also offer more opportunities to meet like-minded individuals. Here’s a list to help you get started (Expat Living also has suggestions).

2. Make time for yourself

Self-care is the fancy way of saying that we need to look after ourselves in order to stay psychologically healthy. This includes the running, dog walking, park connector cycling, spinning, kick-boxing, trampolining, healthy eating, and spa-pampering that we do every week. It is the mindfulness that everyone’s thinking about these days (“How to fight stress? It’s all in the mind“, Straits Times, 3 March 2014). It’s also the family meals and kite-flying picnics that we’ve been having with our loved ones.

And if you’re not been doing any of these, there’s no time like the present. The iLight festival at Marina Bay (Timeout has the scoop) starts this Friday 7 March 2014, while the Mosaic Music Festival celebrates its 10th year, running for a fortnight at the Esplanade starting 7 March 2014. Looking forward, Shylock, Portia and other Venetians transform Fort Canning for its annual picnic event in April: Shakepeare in the Park.

Clawing back time from work responsibilities may however be a job of its own—it may be time to put your assertiveness skills to the test. Learning to say no is a skill that takes practice. In the meantime, some girlie and parenting life hacks may come in useful. So are these useful links, particularly if you’re new to Singapore.

3. Be aware

Aware celebrates International Women’s Day with a Facebook campaign to promote gender equality. Recent media attention also puts the spotlight on workplace bullying (“Facing up to bullies at the workplace“, Straits TImes, 24 Feb 2014) and ensuing legislation (“New harrassment law could be enacted soon in Singapore“, CNA, 26 Feb 2014; “Stalking now an offence under new anti-harrassment bill“, Today, 4 March 2014).

The impact of bullying on employee mental wellbeing is well documented: “The Richie Incognito Case: Workplace Bullying or Just ‘Locker Room” Culture?‘”, APA, 21 Nov 2013, Workplace Bullying: Applying Psychological Torture at Work“, “Bullying in the workplace“, Psychology Today. A zero-tolerance policy at the workplace is key to helping employees maintain their mental wellbeing, as well as sustain employee engagement and productivity. It helps too, if employees recognise bullying behaviours and know the steps to take to protect themselves from the negative effects of bullying.

4. Knowledge is power 

Someone who collapses after running a marathon almost always seems to be a man (e.g., 2XU Compression Run). At least that’s what we get from the news. But statistics show that “women are just as prone to heart disease” as men (Straits Times, 7 May 2013; read this article by the Singapore Heart Foundation). Furthermore, women who experience high levels of stress are reported to be particularly vulnerable. Breast and colorectal cancers are among the top cancers for women in Singapore (based on figures from the Singapore Cancer Registry) but there is evidence to suggest that these and diabetes are preventable with fruits, veggies, whole grains, and an active lifestyle.

Newspaper reports about men with depression appear more often than those about women with depression, potentially fueling our use of the availability heuristic. As a result, we may think that depressive illnesses are more frequent in men than women. In fact, it is the opposite (here’s why); moreover, it’s widely acknowledged that mental illnesses affect women differently from men (the US National Institutes of Health has useful fact sheets).

You can do something about it. Even if you’re only reading about it (e.g., from the US National Women’s Health Resource Center; Women’s Health (Department of Health and Human Services); US NIH’s Women’s Health Resources). It’s a good start!

Postscript. There is local funding to promote women’s health at the workplace, though it does not quite provide for all the items on this wish list. Enjoy!

Happy Chinese New Year!

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Have a happy horse year!

Naaay… have a happy mentally healthy year ahead!

According to a Jobstreet survey last year, it appears that most Singaporean employees are mentally exhausted (AsiaOne, 16 Jul 2013). Not surprising and in line with the previous job surveys (read these previous posts in Jun and Aug last year). But it’s a new year (again)…so you can still work in some “me time”!

Here are 8 things you can do:

  1. Get into an exercise routine like walking the park connectors near your home.
  2. Get your family involved in your walk by organizing a meal afterwards.
  3. Challenge your brain by learning a new sport, dance, or exercise form.
  4. Get your friends to join in. Ask for discounts for introducing new classmates.
  5. Organize your catch-up get-togethers around social activities like board games, urban walks, frisbee, or kite-flying instead of just brunch.
  6. Spend time with others at the soup kitchen, willinghearts, social day care centres or senior activity centres, dog shelters, and/or special needs schools.
  7. Manage your stress. Here are some extra tips.
  8. Look after yourself and your mental wellbeing!

Friends make you happy

It’s official. Social interactions in person make you happy. Not facebook.

And it’s not something that’s been made up, just to support the notion that social support plays an important role in building psychological resilience. There’s research to support this idea! A recent Economist article, “facebook’s bad for you” (August 2013) highlights these findings: Participants in a study who reported high facebook usage were more likely to report poorer life satisfaction, in comparison to those who were infrequent facebook users. In the same study, Kross and colleagues also reported that engaging in face to face social interactions with other people was related to improved mood.

It would be interesting if future work were to uncover that frequent facebook users who tailor their news feed for their wall and/or limit their online social network to friends they regularly meet, report more positive outcomes in terms of mood and psychological well-being compared to frequent facebook users who are indiscriminate news feed consumers and whose online social network includes people they’ve not said two sentences to. It’s lovely that your friends are out there enjoying their strawberry shortcake, sunny Greece, their new washing machine, and home-made bento lunch of grilled fish marinaded in miso and crunchy asparagus, but sometimes it’s better to talk to your friends about it over a cup of tea or coffee!

Finding new friends

It has been well-established that social support plays an important role in building psychological resilience. Ozbay and colleagues (2007) observe that high quality social support is associated with not only better physical health and psychological well-being, but increased productivity. As a Gallup report shows, employees with a close friend at the workplace reported themselves to be more engaged at work.

Building a network of friends and family who will provide high quality social support may however not be so easy if you’ve just joined a new organization or moved to a new office in a foreign land. Establishing a network of friends in the homeland after being away for a while can be a daunting task, although facebook makes it easy to reconnect with long lost friends from school, and meetup has made it even easier to bridge new connections. Learning a new language or joining a dance class can be a good way to make friends who’ll share your passion. Alternatively, learning a new skill, participating in a sport, or volunteering with seniors or a dog shelter can help with the task of forging new bonds. Not to mention the benefits of learning something new!

But for the busy people who haven’t time for hobbies, building a social network of friends at the office can be a good place to start. Here’s a list of things to try:

1. Join the lunch crowd. Round up some colleagues for lunch outside the office if there isn’t already a group that gets lunch together!

2. Organize social events. If getting your colleagues to have dinner once a month is interfering with your current low-salt, low-oil, low-carb diet, try organizing a Saturday morning walk at the Southern Ridges!

3. Start an interest group. A weekly game of badminton could be too tame for some: Instead, incentivize your colleagues to sign up for sailing, fencing, paintball, yoga, and rock climbing through Groupon by promising them food and drink afterwards.

4. Get your RDA of culture. The regular rotation of exhibits at the Flower Dome, National Museum, Singapore Art Museum, and Art and Science Museum means that there’s always something new to see.

With the one-for-one entry offer for the current Princely Treasures from the House of Lichtenstein exhibit at the National Museum with a Today newspaper coupon, and da:ns Festival, Oktoberfest, and Hairspray the musical all coming to town in October 2013, there’s really no excuse for not galvanizing your social network into action!

All work and no play makes Jack miserable

The benefits of exercise to work productivity are well established. But newer findings suggest that engaging in hobbies can be just as helpful in promoting physical and emotional health. Some hobbies can even be profitable.

Findings by Cuypers, Krokstad, Holmen, Knudtsen, Bygren, & Holmen (2011) published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health revealed that participating in receptive and creative cultural activities was associated with good health, satisfaction with life, low anxiety and depression scores in both men and women for their population-based sample of 50,797 participants from Norway. In particular, being directly involved in the creative process was more strongly associated with positive health outcomes than passive appreciation of cultural activities, particularly for male participants. On the whole, engagement in more activities was associated with greater benefits than being involved in fewer activities.

So, go head. Play, dance, get involved. it’s time to switch on that creative brain!

Drawing, painting, & crafts:

Craft & Flea Markets:

Dancing:

Film & Cinema:

Music Gigs & Guides:

Freebies in Singapore:

Visual Arts:

Performance Arts: