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Singaporeans doubled down on keeping healthy amid COVID-19

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with 3 in 4 making improvements in their health as a result

SINGAPORE – Media OutReach – 27 August 2020 –

AIA Singapore today announced findings from the AIA Real Rewards Poll 2020 which revealed that:

As a result of COVID-19, two-thirds (65%) of Singaporeans realise that they have been taking their health for granted,

With more than 7 in 10 (72%) defining the true value of good health as living healthier, longer, better lives with their families and loved ones in today’s socially distant world, and

A whopping 93% prioritised staying healthy over other pursuits to get through the circuit breaker period.

As a result, a significant three quarters of respondents (75%) recorded an improvement in at least one aspect of their well-being — whether in terms of improved eating habits, physical health, sleeping pattern, or mental health — within 8 weeks from the start of the Circuit Breaker in early April 2020.

The study was conducted amongst 875 participants in mid-June 2020 as Singapore moved into phase two of safe reopening.

“It is encouraging that, in these trying times, Singaporeans have taken steps to make positive changes to their health, and they are already reaping the rewards of these simple actions. Our aim is to support even more Singaporeans to achieve their health goals, building on this momentum to enable them to truly live healthier, longer, better lives.

We know that it is not enough to only take care of our physical health. This is why, as a leading insurer in the health space, we take a holistic approach to protecting our customers’ wellbeing across financial, physical, and mental health,” said Ms Melita Teo, Chief Customer and Digital Officer, AIA Singapore.

The AIA Real Rewards Poll 2020, combined with an analysis of AIA Vitality members’ health, provided three note-worthy insights for Singapore.

#1: Singaporeans are adapting by looking beyond keeping active to stay healthy: A well-rounded approach to health includes eating well and getting adequate sleep

Singaporeans did not compromise on eating right as they continue to spend approximately S$470 a month personally on healthy food, even as they reduced overall living expenses amid the pandemic. Instead, they got healthier and saved money by cutting down expenses on junk food and alcohol. 

 

Overall, Singaporeans were placing a high priority on making healthier choices, allocating the highest portion of the living expenses (34%) on healthier meal choices.

Aside from nutrition, Singaporeans are also adapting by paying off their sleep debt. Adults are recommended to get approximately 7 — 9 hours of sleep daily[1].

 

More than 2 in 5 (43%) of Singaporeans have improved their sleeping habits in this period, pointing to reduced commuting time as the key reason why.

This is also reflected in sleep patterns of AIA Vitality members: There were twice as many qualifying sleeps tracked on the wellness programme — of at least 7 hours daily — during the Circuit Breaker compared to the preceding months.

 

The need to address sleep deprivation is especially critical in Singapore, which ranks as the third most sleep-deprived city in the world.[2] AIA launched the #OneMoreHour initiative last year, encouraging people to get an additional hour of sleep, with a content hub created to help improve their sleeping habits.

This follows from a 2019 study AIA conducted which found that 56% of Singaporeans get six or lesser hours of sleep each night and more than half worry about not getting adequate sleep or want to get more. 3 in 5 (59%) agreeing that getting one more hour of sleep would boost their mood and energy.[3]

In addition to the multiple negative impact on health, sleep loss comes at an economic cost too. Developed economies are estimated to be losing 2 — 3 % of their annual Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a result of insufficient sleep.[4]

#2: Keeping healthy helps Singaporeans better manage their mental health: More needs to be done to ensure Singapore’s mental well-being

Unsurprisingly, approximately 3 in 5 (60%) of Singaporeans are anxious about our post-coronavirus world.

Keeping healthy has helped many manage their stress and anxiety:

 

Approximately 1 in 3 (30%) Singaporeans reported improvements to their mental health during COVID-19 — aided by simple steps such as getting at least seven hours of sleep, eating more nutritious meals, and spending quality time with loved ones.

Multiple aspects of keeping healthy contribute to improved mental well-being[5].

However, a similar number of Singaporeans also reported a decline in their mental health due to increased stress and anxiety (30%). This echoes a worrying trend seen elsewhere in Singapore as a result of the pandemic. The National Care Hotline, set up in April 2020 to provide additional support for people facing mental health challenges, received more than 6,600 calls by the end of the same month with approximately 1,000 people identified as requiring even more targeted support thereafter[6].

#3: Singapore continues to be the most active in Asia, even amid COVID-19: Nurturing a stronger healthy-living culture a joint responsibility of the public and private sector

Compared to their counterparts across the region, AIA Vitality members in Singapore were the most active group:

 Despite the pandemic, members in Singapore recorded the highest percentage of workouts tracked on the programme between January to May 2020 amongst 12 markets across Asia-Pacific. 

Even before COVID-19, AIA Vitality members in Singapore have consistently been amongst the most active. For members who are active on the programme’s Weekly Fitness Challenge, more than half typically exceed the minimum weekly target.

“The success of our nation’s initiatives to encourage healthy living is evident in the continued high levels of activity amongst Singaporeans despite the Circuit Breaker measures, with many finding creative ways to continue keeping fit while working from home. This is encouraging, and speaks to the immense opportunity we, the private sector, have to continue nurturing a healthy-living culture in Singapore and improving the health of our population,” shared Ms Teo.

With more than 100,000 members in Singapore alone, AIA Vitality was the first wellness programme introduced by an insurer locally in 2013 and has since yielded significant health results:

 

Strong clinical outcomes [7] for members including improvements in glucose levels, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and BMI.

The impact of AIA Vitality has been most salient amongst members who were initially reported to be in the unhealthy age. On average, they have gotten “younger”, reversing their Vitality Age by approximately 2 years since joining the programme. The difference between members’ Vitality Age compared to their biological age has since shrunk by half. Vitality Age is a measure of how healthy an individual is relative to their actual age.

Designed by medical experts, AIA Vitality stands out for its well-rounded approach to health. The programme is constantly being evolved to help members better understand and improve their own health. These ongoing enhancements are developed based on insights gleaned from data on members’ health improvements, continued research, and behavioural science, amongst others.

To help individuals and families in Singapore embrace new norms of reaching their health goals at home, AIA hosted AIA Live on 2 August 2020, an online event where AIA Global Ambassador David Beckham, award-winning chef Jeremy Pang and celebrities from across Asia Pacific came together to explore how to achieve healthier, longer, better lives together. Local celebrities Andie Chen, Andrew Marko, and Amanda Chaang were part of the exciting line-up for the day. AIA Live covered multiple aspects of health and wellness including sessions on fitness, meditation, making healthier meals, body positivity, and more. A recording of the full AIA Live programme is available for viewing here: https://bit.ly/AIALive2020SG

 

[1] ‘How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?’ (2020) SleepFoundation.org. Information available at: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-much-sleep-do-we-really-need  

[2] ‘How does Sleep Deprivation affect You?’ (2020) HealthHub.sg. Information available at: https://www.healthhub.sg/live-healthy/1034/sleep-deprivation#:~:text=Singaporeans%20are%20amongst%20the%20most,sleeping%20well%20is%20not%20okay.

[3] ‘Get #OneMoreHouse of sleep for a healthier, longer, better life’ (2019) AIA. Information available at: https://www.aia.com.sg/en/onemorehour.html

[4] ‘Investing in sleep for health and wellbeing dividends. A view from one of Asia’s leading sleep scientists.’ (2019). Dr Michael Chee, Professor, Duke-NUS Medical School and Principle of the Cognitive Neuroscience Lab. Member of AIA’s Healthier, Longer, Better Lives Advisory Board. Information available at: https://www.aia.com/en/healthy-living/onemorehour/professorchee.html

[5] 10 Essential Tips for Mental Well-Being’ (2020) HealthHub. Information available at: https://www.healthhub.sg/live-healthy/1926/10-Essentials-for-Mental-Well-Being

[6] ‘Mental health fallout: How COVID-19 has affected those in Singapore. (9 May 2020) The Straits Times. Janice Tai. Social Affairs Correspondent. Information available at: https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/mental-health-fallout

[7] Metrics improvements tabulated based on members’ first submission and latest submission of their health screening results.



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Features

Strong on vocals

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The group Mirage is very much alive, and kicking, as one would say!

Their lineup did undergo a few changes and now they have decided to present themselves as an all male group – operating without a female vocalist.

At the helm is Donald Pieries (drums and vocals), Trevin Joseph (percussion and vocals), Dilipa Deshan (bass and vocals), Toosha Rajarathna (keyboards and vocals), and Sudam Nanayakkara (lead guitar and vocals).

The plus factor, where the new lineup is concerned, is that all five members sing.

However, leader Donald did mention that if it’s a function, where a female vocalist is required, they would then feature a guest performer.

Mirage is a very experience outfit and they now do the Friday night scene at the Irish Pub, in Colombo, as well as private gigs.

 

 

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Dichotomy of an urban-suburban New Year

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Ushered in by the ‘coo-ee’ of the Koel and the swaying of Erabadu bunches, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year will dawn in the wee hours of April 14. With houses to clean, preparation of sweetmeats and last-minute shopping, times are hectic…. and the streets congested.

It is believed that New Year traditions predated the advent of Buddhism in the 3rd century BC. But Buddhism resulted in a re-interpretation of the existing New Year activities in a Buddhist light. Hinduism has co-existed with Buddhism over millennia and no serious contradiction in New Year rituals are observed among Buddhists and Hindus.

The local New Year is a complex mix of Indigenous, Astrological, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions. Hindu literature provides the New Year with its mythological backdrop. The Prince of Peace called Indradeva is said to descend upon the earth to ensure peace and happiness, in a white carriage wearing on his head a white floral crown seven cubits high. He first plunges, into a sea of milk, breaking earth’s gravity.

The timing of the Sinhala New Year coincides with the New Year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and Southeast Asia. Astrologically, the New Year begins when the sun moves from the House of Pisces (Meena Rashiya) to the House of Aries (Mesha Rashiya) in the celestial sphere.

The New Year marks the end of the harvest season and spring. Consequently, for farming communities, the traditional New Year doubles as a harvest as well. It also coincides with one of two instances when the sun is directly above Sri Lanka. The month of Bak, which coincides with April, according to the Gregorian calendar, represents prosperity. Astrologers decide the modern day rituals based on auspicious times, which coincides with the transit of the Sun between ‘House of Pisces’ and ‘House of Aries’.

Consequently, the ending of the old year, and the beginning of the new year occur several hours apart, during the time of transit. This period is considered Nonegathe, which roughly translates to ‘neutral period’ or a period in which there are no auspicious times. During the Nonegathe, traditionally, people are encouraged to engage themselves in meritorious and religious activities, refraining from material pursuits. This year the Nonegathe begin at 8.09 pm on Tuesday, April 13, and continues till 8.57 am on 14. New Year dawns at the halfway point of the transit, ushered in bythe sound of fire crackers, to the woe of many a dog and cat of the neighbourhood. Cracker related accidents are a common occurrence during new year celebrations. Environmental and safety concerns aside, lighting crackers remain an integral part of the celebrations throughout Sri Lanka.

This year the Sinhala and Tamil New Year dawns on Wednesday, April 14, at 2.33 am. But ‘spring cleaning’ starts days before the dawn of the new year. Before the new year the floor of houses are washed clean, polished, walls are lime-washed or painted, drapes are washed, dried and rehang. The well of the house is drained either manually or using an electric water pump and would not be used until such time the water is drawn for first transaction. Sweetmeats are prepared, often at homes, although commercialization of the new year has encouraged most urbanites to buy such food items. Shopping is a big part of the new year. Crowds throng to clothing retailers by the thousands. Relatives, specially the kids, are bought clothes as presents.

Bathing for the old year takes place before the dawn of the new year. This year this particular auspicious time falls on April 12, to bathe in the essence of wood apple leaves. Abiding by the relevant auspicious times the hearth and an oil lamp are lit and pot of milk is set to boil upon the hearth. Milk rice, the first meal of the year, is prepared separate. Entering into the first business transaction and partaking of the first meal are also observed according to the given auspicious times. This year, the auspicious time for preparing of meals, milk rice and sweets using mung beans, falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 6.17 am, and is to be carried out dressed in light green, while facing east. Commencement of work, transactions and consumption of the first meal falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 7.41 am, to be observed while wearing light green and facing east.

The first transaction was traditionally done with the well. The woman of the house would draw water from the well and in exchange drop a few pieces of charcoal, flowers, coins, salt and dried chillies into the well, in certain regions a handful of paddy or rice is also thrown in for good measure. But this ritual is also dying out as few urban homes have wells within their premises. This is not a mere ritual and was traditionally carried out with the purification properties of charcoal in mind. The first water is preferably collected into an airtight container, and kept till the dawn of the next new year. It is believed that if the water in the container does not go down it would be a prosperous year. The rituals vary slightly based on the region. However, the essence of the celebrations remains the same.

Anointing of oil is another major ritual of the New Year celebrations. It falls on Saturday, April 17 at 7.16 am, and is done wearing blue, facing south, with nuga leaves placed on the head and Karada leaves at the feet. Oil is to be applied mixed with extracts of Nuga leaves. The auspicious time for setting out for professional occupations falls on Monday, April 19 at 6.39 am, while dressed in white, by consuming a meal of milk rice mixed with ghee, while facing South.

Traditionally, women played Raban during this time, but such practices are slowly being weaned out by urbanization and commercialisation of the New Year. Neighbours are visited with platters of sweetmeats, bananas, Kevum (oil cake) and Kokis (a crispy sweetmeat) usually delivered by children. The dichotomy of the urban and village life is obvious here too, where in the suburbs and the village outdoor celebrations are preferred and the city opts for more private parties.

 

 

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New Year games: Integral part of New Year Celebrations

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Food, games and rituals make a better part of New Year celebrations. One major perk of Avurudu is the festivals that are organised in each neighbourhood in its celebration. Observing all the rituals, like boiling milk, partaking of the first meal, anointing of oil, setting off to work, are, no doubt exciting, but much looked-forward-to is the local Avurudu Uthsawaya.

Avurudu Krida or New Year games are categorised as indoor and outdoor games. All indoor games are played on the floor and outdoor games played during the Avurudu Uthsava or New Year festival, with the whole neighbourhood taking part. Some of the indoor games are Pancha Dameema, Olinda Keliya and Cadju Dameema. Outdoor games include Kotta pora, Onchili pedeema, Raban geseema, Kana mutti bindeema, Placing the eye on the elephant, Coconut grating competition, Bun-eating competition, Lime-on-spoon race, Kamba adeema (Tug-o-War) and Lissana gaha nageema (climbing the greased pole). And what’s an Avurudhu Uthsava sans an Avurudu Kumari pageant, minus the usual drama that high profile beauty pageants of the day entail, of course.

A salient point of New Year games is that there are no age categories. Although there are games reserved for children such as blowing of balloons, races and soft drinks drinking contests, most other games are not age based.

Kotta pora aka pillow fights are not the kind the average teenagers fight out with their siblings, on plush beds. This is a serious game, wherein players have to balance themselves on a horizontal log in a seated position. With one hand tied behind their back and wielding the pillow with the other, players have to knock the opponent off balance. Whoever knocks the opponent off the log first, wins. The game is usually played over a muddy pit, so the loser goes home with a mud bath.

Climbing the greased pole is fun to watch, but cannot be fun to take part in. A flag is tied to the end of a timber pole-fixed to the ground and greased along the whole length. The objective of the players is to climb the pole, referred to as the ‘tree’, and bring down the flag. Retrieving the flag is never achieved on the first climb. It takes multiple climbers removing some of the grease at a time, so someone could finally retrieve the flag.

Who knew that scraping coconut could be made into an interesting game? During the Avurudu coconut scraping competition, women sit on coconut scraper stools and try to scrape a coconut as fast as possible. The one who finishes first wins. These maybe Avurudu games, but they are taken quite seriously. The grated coconut is inspected for clumps and those with ungrated clumps are disqualified.

Coconut palm weaving is another interesting contest that is exclusive to women. However men are by no means discouraged from entering such contests and, in fact, few men do. Participants are given equally measured coconut fronds and the one who finishes first wins.

Kana Mutti Bindima involves breaking one of many water filled clay pots hung overhead, using a long wooden beam. Placing the eye on the elephant is another game played while blindfolded. An elephant is drawn on a black or white board and the blindfolded person has to spot the eye of the elephant. Another competition involves feeding the partner yoghurt or curd while blindfolded.

The Banis-eating contest involves eating tea buns tied to a string. Contestants run to the buns with their hands tied behind their backs and have to eat buns hanging from a string, on their knees. The one who finishes his or her bun first, wins. Kamba adeema or Tug-o-War pits two teams against each other in a test of strength. Teams pull on opposite ends of a rope, with the goal being to bring the rope a certain distance in one direction against the force of the opposing team’s pull.

Participants of the lime-on-spoon race have to run a certain distance while balancing a lime on a spoon, with the handle in their mouths. The first person to cross the finish line without dropping the lime wins. The sack race and the three-legged race are equally fun to watch and to take part in. In the sack race, participants get into jute sacks and hop for the finish line. The first one over, wins. In the three-legged race one leg of each pair of participants are tied together and the duo must reach the finish line by synchronising their running, else they would trip over their own feet.

Pancha Dameema is an indoor game played in two groups, using five small shells, a coconut shell and a game board. Olinda is another indoor board game, normally played by two players. The board has nine holes, four beads each. The player who collects the most number of seeds win.

This is the verse sung while playing the game:

“Olinda thibenne koi koi dese,

Olinda thibenne bangali dese…

Genath hadanne koi koi dese,

Genath hadanne Sinhala dese…”

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