Embracing an active lifestyle … and a fourth bucket list

by | December 6, 2011

This Active Agers Awards 2011 winner is living it up and is not afraid of trying new things.

BY: Dr William Wan

One Saturday evening in September, the Council for Third Age (C3A) honoured seven of us seniors with an Active Agers Award. We were featured in a full-page ad the following Monday. A friend, whom I have not seen for almost 40 years, called to say that I looked quite the same and he could recognise me easily sans my hair. He also said that I sounded the same on the phone. I like to believe that he was not just flattering me! 

Growing up, I remember my beloved mother dressed in sombre-coloured conservative attire with her hair all braided into a bun, in accordance to the dress code expected of seniors. Not only was she expected to “look” senior, she was also to behave like a “senior”. It is hardly expected of her to be exuberant, let alone be active! She did not have a choice for the cultural ethos of her time dictates the inactive way she should live her life. And she was only in her mid-40s.

What a difference it is today. There is no social pressure to dress like a senior, whatever that means. We can be as youthful and fashionable as we choose to be. And we can be as active as we are able to be.

Pushing the envelope

Being active is a lifestyle choice and the choice is entirely ours to make. I decided to be an active ager because I happen to believe that age is only a number. Despite my busy schedule, I still manage to put aside time to communicate with my family who currently reside overseas, and I enjoy photography, singing, and keeping healthy with a game of squash, tennis or golf at least once a week. I also continually challenge myself by experiencing extreme sports such as skydiving, Snipe (dinghy) racing, scuba-diving, and I fully intend to pursue more.

Furthermore, I just did my fourth bucket list. For this year, I had planned on climbing a volcanic mountain in Indonesia but had to abort it at the last minute due to a bout of bronchitis while I was in Malaysia. Though I quickly recovered from it, my doc advised against climbing so I decided to climb a rock wall instead. And I have done it twice now – I think it is only about 10m to 12m straight up. It was quite hard on the fingers and arms, and I don’t think I will be able to do it a third time! I am hoping next year to climb Mount Rinjani (an active volcano in Indonesia) and at a later time, to sail a dinghy. There is so much to do and so little time to do them all!

I target a challenge a year – something that I have not done before and always wanted to do. Looking back – in the first year at age 61, I did my first skydive in the US. At 62, I did my first Snipe racing also in the US. At 63, I did my scuba-diving in Malaysia. And rounding off this year – my rock climbing here in Singapore. 

I am always game on trying something new and I don’t let anything detract me from continuously learning. I stay in touch of the latest technology and I remain connected to my network of friends using social media such as Twitter and Facebook. I also play online games everyday.

Ageing is inevitable

I figured that there is nothing I could do about “ageing” in terms of adding years to the length of time I live on earth. But there is a lot I can do about filling the content of those hours and days, weeks and months, years and decades, that relentlessly drive me into my senior years.

First, I recognise that we pass this way only once and whatever good I can do for myself and others, I better do something about it. I figured that before I can do anybody any good, I need to feel good about myself. And what is the highest good I can do for myself?I soon found the answer is keeping healthy, fit and positive.

It is said that some people lose their health in pursuit of wealth only to use their wealth to try to recover their health. That statement helps me to pursue health not wealth. With health I can enjoy whatever I have, be it little or much. But without health, wealth does not necessarily enhance my quality of life.

Second, I realise that there is an attainable quality of life beyond the material. By that I am referring to thought life and the life of the soul. When I enjoy a book or a piece of music, when I enjoy a poem or a conversation among friends, I am achieving a quality of life that is not material. An active mind and a receptive soul, I found, is a good booster to the enjoyment of our limited time on earth.

A little kindness can go far

Finally, I was influenced in my teenage years that my life is to be of benefit to others because others have benefited me. English clergy and author Dr Henry Burton asks:

“Have you had a kindness shown?
Pass it on; it was not given for thee alone, pass it on.
Let it travel down the years,
let it wipe another’s tears,
till in heaven the deed appears,
pass it on.”

Having been a beneficiary of kindness all my life, I sought to pass it on by living an active life, always seeking to be a blessing to somebody every day.


Dr William Wan, 64, is the general secretary of Singapore Kindness Movement and an Active Agers Award 2011 winner. He has many other achievements under his belt – he is a lawyer, an ordained minister, a psychometric analyst, and holds his PhD in Constitutional Law. He is also the chairman of Life Anew!, sits on the board of The Helping Hand, and volunteers regularly with Perbutuhan Perkhidmantan Intervensi Awal, a school for special children with Down syndrome and extreme autism in Malaysia.



  1. Leslie Terh

    Very good article. Agreed with the content. on aging

    • agelessadmin

      Thanks, Leslie, for your comment. Keep coming back to the site as there will be more interesting stories 🙂

  2. Steven Teo

    I’ve know Dr Wan for many years and more intimately over the last few years and always admire his determination to be not just active but all rounder person. Age, like he said is just a number.

    However, when one pushes the envelope in physical pursuits it would be prudent to “listen to your body” and adjust your bucket list if you cannot take the challenge. I’ve learnt to take a slower or shorter route, like scaling down my marathon runs to half and then taking a year of not running long distances so that my knee cartlilage could last longer before the need of surgery. But then there are always so many other physical challenges to whet your appetite.

    Dr Wan is not only very kind as a person, but “Wan” of the kind we rarely find in today’s society – where wealth management is held in higher esteem than health management.

    Enjoy the article alot, and will forward to friends…..

    thanks, steven

  3. Anny Rodjito

    Excellent article Dr Wan! It is indeed inspiring. I hope many will read about this and think about how they can make their life as fruitful and meaningful for themselves. I’m glad to say that I’ve somehow been surrounded by people who have shown me that there is no limit to what we can do (it’s only whether we want to), to do our best within our limitations, be creative in achieving that quality of life and not let norms and popular belief dictate this for us 🙂

    Thank you for ‘passing this on’.

  4. M. Bowen

    Melanie here! I enjoyed this piece, please email me–I have a question about your blog. MelanieLBowen[at]gmail[dot]com

    • agelessadmin

      E-mailing you now. Thanks for your feedback 🙂


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *