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Tips for a healthier you in 2022: Have fun and know your needs

Tips for a healthier you in 2022: Have fun and know your needs

Published on

04 Jan 2022

Published by

The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - Health and well-being are on most minds at the start of a new year, especially after 24 months of a global pandemic. The Straits Times asked 10 experts - including the Health Promotion Board (HPB) - how to get healthier in 2022.


Apart from eating right, exercising sensibly and resting well, experts suggest investing in preventive health measures like flu shots, managing your mental health and enjoying the healthy changes you make.


Have fun


Setting goals such as exercising 150 minutes a week or eating more vegetables is important, but pursuing these goals does not have to be boring or arduous.


Mr Louis Yap, senior dietitian, Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, says people often equate healthy eating with "lousy tasting dishes", but that is not true. A little creativity in preparation or arrangement can spice up any meal.


He suggests designing an Instagram-worthy plate.


"Make the meal visually appealing by making it colourful. Add a variety of coloured vegetables, such as yellow peppers, beetroot and fruits, as they have different nutritional benefits. By making your plate Instagram-worthy, eating healthy becomes more fun and an activity that you can look forward to," he says.


Similarly, an exercise and fitness regimen need not be boring.


Mr James Yeo, head of education at fitness solutions company DexaFit Asia, says: "Take time to not only do what you plan to, but also explore new things. For example, try cooking a new vegetable, hike a new location or try a new sport, just to spice things up and figure out what you may like or dislike."


He adds that people should not be afraid of failing. It is expected that we will do badly at times. The important thing is consistency.


While tracking one's fitness progress is important, perhaps by measuring kilometres clocked on a run or the number of push-ups one can do, Mr Yeo warns against attaching emotion to the numbers.


"You are just looking to know where you are, so you know whether your efforts are creating change," he says.


"Along the way, unfortunately, life happens and we will definitely not always be on track, and that is okay; you are, after all, human. The important thing is to remember your 'why' and have fun while staying committed to your health goal of 2022," he adds.


Making healthy habits fun and enjoyable helps with self-care, especially for older people, according to Ms Nicole Lu, senior physiotherapist at aged care provider Allium Healthcare.


She says: "Engaging in enjoyable activities allows seniors to feel in control of their lifestyle. It gives a sense of purpose, prevents feelings of loneliness and provides stability to their mental well-being."


She might recommend gardening or group exercises to seniors trying to get healthier, as such activities also build social connections and can be mentally stimulating.


Act first


Beyond finding renewed pleasure in food and exercise, we can take steps to identify and mitigate the risk of disease and illness.


HPB's Screen For Life programme offers subsidised tests for Singaporeans and permanent residents, based on age and gender, at Community Health Assist Scheme GP clinics, polyclinics and participating community providers. It is recommended that people in their 40s and older screen for chronic illnesses such as diabetes, for example.


HPB recommends going for regular health screenings as "early detection of medical conditions, before they progress, allows for earlier and therefore more effective treatment and management".


Dr Dheeraj Khiatani, medical director of The Integrative Medical Centre, also recommends health screenings and says people should look out for nutritional deficiencies that affect energy levels and immunity.


"In Singapore, almost one in three women is iron deficient," says the general practitioner (GP). "Additionally, despite living in the sunny tropics, 80 per cent of us are vitamin D deficient."


HPB also recommends getting vaccinated based on the recommendations in the National Childhood Immunisation Schedule and National Adult Immunisation Schedule. This will protect us against vaccine-preventable diseases such as influenza and pneumococcal disease.


Vaccinations are important and overlooked, says Dr Hoe Wan Sin, a GP at Parkway Shenton Medical Group. One of her New Year resolutions is to focus on building awareness of non-Covid-19 vaccinations, especially for the elderly.


She says: "The annual influenza vaccination is underrated - not only does it reduce the risk of flu-related hospitalisations and deaths, but the incidence of a major cardiac event among patients with coronary heart disease is also reduced by more than one-third. It is also associated with reduced hospitalisations among diabetic and chronic lung disease patients."


She adds that pregnant women who get vaccinated protect not just themselves, but also their babies for up to six months after they are born.


Other preventive health measures recommended by HPB include quitting smoking - smokers can sign up at the board's I Quit website - and monitoring alcohol consumption to lower the risk of alcohol-related harm. Men should drink no more than two standard drinks a day, and women no more than one standard drink a day.


Manage mental health


The HPB says: "Mental health is part of our overall health and is as important as physical health. Good mental well-being is important for everyone at every stage of life and helps you cope with the varying emotions and normal stresses of life."


The MindSG website is a one-stop online resource portal for mental health and well-being content. As a start, these four "Okay tips" recommended by the HPB may help to improve mental well-being:


• Observe your emotions by identifying them and assessing how you are feeling and what is causing you to feel that way.


• Keep a healthy lifestyle by getting a good night's sleep of seven hours each day, having a balanced diet and exercising regularly.


• Adopt coping skills such as learning to think positive by reframing your thoughts.


• You can reach out - to a loved one or a healthcare professional - to support yourself and those around you.


Other experts also emphasise the importance of maintaining social connections and getting adequate exercise and rest.


Ms Jeanette Lim, senior clinical psychologist at the Institute of Mental Health's department of psychology, says: "As we all need social connections, we can learn to be our best supporters and then build mutual support with loved ones. Spending time with loved ones is a great way to keep the bond strong. At the same time, it is important to have boundaries to build healthy relationships where there are reciprocal give-and-take patterns."


Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Gleneagles Hospital, calls for a mindset shift in society. He says we need to change our beliefs, as much as our behaviours.


He says Singaporeans too often sacrifice family and personal time for work, and this can lead to burnout and other issues.


"In my experience, locally, a lot of mental health issues arise from high self-expectations and being punitive to oneself. One is harsh in the face of self-perceived under-performance."


He suggests that we be kinder to ourselves, starting with becoming aware when we have unkind thoughts about ourselves.


"We deserve self-compassion. Being kind to ourselves includes accepting our weaknesses and not being overly harsh on ourselves when we fall short. It also includes taking good care of our health, ensuring adequate rest and relaxation, as well as having fun in life."


He adds that it is okay to feel frustrated occasionally - "maybe even try a small tantrum" - since it has been a tough couple of years for everyone.


"Know that at the end of the day, we will still pick ourselves up to face whatever changes and challenges that come our way, and stay the course."


How to eat well


Adopting a balanced diet and avoiding food high in fat, sugar and sodium can decrease the risk of chronic diseases, according to the Health Promotion Board (HPB).


Its My Healthy Plate illustrates how to eat healthier: a quarter of the plate is filled with wholegrains, a quarter with good sources of protein, and half with fruits and vegetables.


Choose healthier options


Opt for natural foods over processed ones. When buying food products, look for those with the Healthier Choice symbol, which usually have less sugar, sodium or saturated fat, or perhaps more wholegrain content.


Look for food and beverage operators in the Healthier Dining Programme which offer lower-calorie meals or meals prepared with healthier ingredients, as well as drinks that are lower in sugar.


Mr Louis Yap, senior dietitian at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, notes that restaurants tend to provide bigger portions than one might serve at home, so be wary of over-ordering.


Know your needs


Mr Yap adds that we should think of food in terms of nutritional value that helps our bodies function well, not just as calories.


"Eating a well-balanced diet contributes to healthy development, healthy ageing and greater resilience against disease. If we don't get a balanced and varied nutrient intake, our metabolic processes may suffer and our health declines."


He suggests that the 20s is a good time to take in enough calcium through the diet to ensure good bone density in later life.


From the 30s, be even more mindful of alcohol consumption.


From the 40s, reduce food intake by cutting back on snacks, but ensure you are getting adequate fruits and vegetables.


Those in their 50s and older might consider consulting a doctor or dietitian for a better understanding of their needs.


Keep a food diary


Seniors and those on medically approved diets should consult their doctors before making any drastic changes, experts say, but in general, keeping a food journal for three days to a week is a good way to examine how to improve your eating habits.


Healthy dietary changes can be enjoyable, Mr Yap says.


"A simple vegetable can taste different whether you cook it in soup, roast it, bake it, fry it or grill it, so vary your meals. Eating healthily and mindfully doesn't have to be boring."


He suggests freezing fruits into popsicles or using kiwis or apples as dessert or turning them into dips.


Optimise the kitchen


Hide the unhealthy snacks and keep healthier food in prominent places, suggests Mr James Yeo, head of education at fitness solutions company DexaFit Asia.


"This increases the accessibility of food that meets your goals and therefore increases the likelihood of you consuming them."


He also suggests investing in "emergency foods like dry food, oats, fruits, salad vegetables or yogurt".


"These foods require little to no cooking and helps you whip up a meal on a busy day, or on days when you just can't be bothered to cook," he says.


How to stay active


Exercise is important for physical health, but staying active has been a challenge for many people amid pandemic restrictions.


Experts say working from home has made us more sedentary. Working from bedrooms, sofas has also led many to develop aches and pains in the neck, shoulder and upper back.


Starting from zero


Dr Paul Bell, an osteopathologist at The Integrative Medical Centre, says we should aim to change our position every 30 minutes to reduce aches and pains.


"Mobility exercises and stretches can also be incorporated, but even getting up, walking around the desk and sitting back down can be beneficial," says Dr Bell, who has a professional doctorate in health from the University of Bath.


The Health Promotion Board (HPB) recommends ways to stay active while working from home.


It says: "Even small increments in activity volume are associated with improved health outcomes. For a sedentary adult, walking the recommended 7,500 to 10,000 steps daily can contribute to lowering high blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels and improve glucose control. These can help to reduce the risk of diabetes and other chronic diseases."


HPB suggestions to reduce time spent sitting or lying down while working from home include walking to eateries to take away lunch instead of opting for delivery; doing three to five minutes of stretching for every sedentary hour, and skipping with a jump rope whenever you need a break from the screen.


Aim for 150 minutes a week


For those who are physically active, aim to clock 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous physical activity.


HPB's Move It programme offers free virtual exercise sessions and thematic fitness challenges.


Mr James Yeo, head of education at fitness solutions company DexaFit Asia, says to do less at the start.


"Going hard and heavy right off the bat may not be the best move. You can risk injury, potentially have a week of soreness to heal, and possibly feel hungrier than usual after your first training session."


Three days of exercise a week often works well for beginners or those returning to exercise. Include resistance training as well as cardio - cycling, running, circuit training - to build cardiovascular endurance.


Mr Apri Kelvin Tio, a fitness coach at fitness club Urban Den, suggests starting with low-impact workouts and gradually increasing the intensity over time.


"It is also good to mix recovery yoga between power workouts or weight training. This allows your body to rest as well as enhances its endurance and self-healing ability as you intensify your training," he says.


Stretch every day


Mr Tio recommends a few minutes of stretching every day to maintain flexibility - pain-free and unrestricted motion - and mobility - range of motion.


"Stretches can easily be done at home with just a yoga mat, and there are many great tutorials available on the Internet. If you have specific areas of concern or are prone to injury in specific muscles or joints, consult a physiotherapist for targeted stretching exercises and mobility drills."


He also recommends seeking advice from a doctor on the types of exercise you can perform.


"For example, if you have osteoporosis, it is best to avoid exercises that involve high-impact or explosive forces, or exercises that will aggravate your pain," he adds.


Do not aim for pain


Do not train through pain, says Dr Bell.


Musculoskeletal pain either indicates injury or is a warning of impending damage.


"It is generally safer to exercise into the realm of discomfort only and to modify your activity if you experience pain. If you ignore the pain alarm, this will cause increased muscle tightness and greatly increase your risk of injury and experiencing more severe or chronic pain."


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.

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