Is there a secret to looking and feeling young?
In the third of a four-part series that explores the idea of living longer, CNA’s Dawn Tan looks at the lengths people will go to in efforts to slow down the ageing process.
SINGAPORE: It is common to go to a clinic for a health check, but some, like entrepreneur Kong Mun Chew, go to longevity centre Regenosis.
While not a healthcare facility, the centre has a team of specialist doctors tasked with helping clients to counter ageing through customised programmes.
Before Mr Kong started on such a programme, health and feeling young were not his priorities.
“My sugar level was … quite high and cholesterol (level) was high and quite often, (was) suffering from flu and at times, got very bad headaches because of the nature of my lifestyle,” he told CNA.
“The data actually tells a story that will motivate you to be careful with your food, and what other things that you should do, (as) advised by the specialists,” he added.
Major changes to his lifestyle followed, with his diet and exercise scrupulously monitored at the centre.
“Exercise (has) become part and parcel of my life. Today, if I don't walk, I feel a little bit uneasy,” he said.
Mr Kong, who is pushing 60 years old, said what he is getting is an “overhaul” to his body.
“My health has improved so much,” he added.
THE USE OF STEM CELL THERAPY
Lifestyle tweaks are just one part of what is offered at Regenosis. It is one of a growing number of centres in Asia providing regenerative medicine through stem cell therapy called mesenchymal stem cell therapy.
While strict limitations in Singapore mean this therapy cannot be administered here, clients can go through it at the firm’s facility across the Causeway.
The treatments can cost up to S$30,000 annually.
Such stem cell therapy is one of many aspects of ageing that is being studied currently in regenerative medicine, said Professor William Hwang, head of the SingHealth Duke-NUS Cell Therapy Centre.
He explained that such therapy involves the use of stem cells in the hope that they will repair and regenerate diseased tissues and cells. However, “a lot more” studies among a large population are needed to see if stem cell therapy is truly beneficial in slowing down ageing, he said.
He drew up the analogy of fixing a damaged car.
“If you liken the situation to that of a damaged car, then throwing in undifferentiated mesenchymal stromal cells - it's like throwing a bunch of screws and levers into the engine and hoping they assemble themselves into an engine,” he said.
“It doesn't always work, but nevertheless, it’s an area … worth studying,” he added.
While the jury may still be out over the efficacy of stem cell therapy, it has its fans, and among them is Mr Kong.
Although he did not say if he is undergoing stem cell therapy with Regenosis, he said if it is allowed in Singapore, “I'll be the first one to jump into it”.
THE "OLD-SCHOOL" WAY
Others in Mr Kong’s age bracket, like Mr Chuando Tan, swear by more basic methods to try and defy ageing.
The 56-year-old attained online fame for not looking his age and toned body five years ago, after a Chinese online site featured his Instagram profile.
“As much as I don't think I look that young, I could be a person who look like a healthy version of someone of my age,” he said.
The artistic director and model exercises, watches his calorie input and output, and maintains a positive mindset, he said.
“If let's say we can psyche ourselves to have that mindset to have a positive, healthy, young thinking, I think through a period of time, that feeling will eventually become you,” he said.
Science agrees with him.
THE SCIENCE OF FEELING YOUNG
“If exercise were a pill, it would be a blockbuster drug. Everyone will be taking it. But exercise requires effort. And because exercise requires effort, it’s not such an easy pill to swallow,” said Prof Hwang, who is also chief executive of the National Cancer Centre Singapore.
Professor of Sociology at Singapore Management University, Paulin Straughan, said that when society looks at the process of ageing “fairly myopically”, focusing on physical well-being because it is seen as a medical science question. But it is not, she said.
“Well-being is a multi-dimensional construct. In addition to physical well-being, being physiologically able to stay mobile and all that, there are the important dimensions of psychological and mental well-being, social well-being,” she said.
Prof Brian Kennedy, director of the Centre for Healthy Longevity under Singapore’s National University Health System, said that the methods used to improve lifestyle need to be sustainable.
“I can tell everybody to go be vegan marathon runners. It’s not going to do much good. So, we have to work with people to develop personalised strategies for them to slowly improve their lifestyle,” he said.
Mr Tan said he shies away when asked for the secret of his youthful look, “maybe because deep down inside I know I'm already 56 and I'm ageing like everyone else”.
“If I can make people follow my way to stay positive, to be healthy, I'll be so happy. I think that will be a dream come true,” he said.