We could all be healthy and beautiful. There’s a ton of gyms and yoga studios in this town. Trainers and life coaches are a dime-a-dozen. Oxygen machines and ergonomically correct chairs are just a click away online. But let’s get real for a moment. Are you going to wake up at 5am, do a morning jog, have a vegan breakfast then pack a balanced lunch? When would you have time to work?
Working, smoking, drinking, sleeping too little, these are the rhythms of life for far too many in Singapore. But even these unfortunate people can do something about their health. We rang up a few experts and consulted our medical journals to compile these health tips for the unfit, the unaware and the uncaring.
They won’t all be right for you. Pick and choose the ones that fit with your lifestyle and who knows? Maybe you’ll get started on a path toward a better, stronger, smarter or thinner you. And remember, even though we like to dress in white coats and use stethoscopes, we are not doctors – so consult a real one before you try something new, like exercise.
1. Eat breakfast. People who eat breakfast every day are less likely to be overweight – 44 percent less likely in one Harvard study. One reason is people who skip breakfast tend to overeat at dinner. In addition to weight gain, other consequences of this are fatigue and low productivity. Anything is better than nothing, but you’re better off with a combination of protein (eggs are great) and slow-digesting carbohydrates.
2. Eat more (often). Waiting four-five hours between meals is bad for several reasons. One consequence is low blood sugar, which can leave you weak, tired and bitchy. Second, to compensate, your body breaks down muscle to use as fuel. You don’t want that: You need muscle for strength and endurance, and the more muscle you have, the more calories your body will burn even when you’re not exercising. So split your usual three (or two) meals a day into five or six meals.
3. Cut “bad” carbohydrates like white rice, noodles, bread, potatoes, baked goods and candy from your diet. These fast-digesting carbs cause your blood sugar levels to spike, and your body reacts by shutting down the fat burning process. (This also increases your risk for diabetes and heart disease.) Fruits and vegetables are a much better source of carbohydrates. Can’t give up your precious pasta? Try limiting your carbs to the morning. And make sure you eat your “bad” carbs with plenty of protein. The carbohydrates will be less likely to be converted into fat, plus protein also helps reduce hunger.
4. The bed is for sleeping and sex. Doing other things sends mixed signals to your brain, and you may end up with trouble falling asleep.
5. Exercise. This needs no introduction. But if you’re still not convinced why you should spend at least 30 minutes doing aerobic exercise, listen to this: workouts relieve stress and anxiety, strengthen your immune system, make it easier for you to fall asleep and improve memory. Still not convinced? Well, men who exercise regularly are less likely to have erectile dysfunction. The key is to take small steps: don’t start your exercise or weight-loss program with unrealistic goals. The important thing is to do SOMETHING. Why do you have to run 10 laps every day? Your first week out, start with two laps – walking.
6. Smile a little. The Buangkok MRT station is open and it’s the start of a fresh new year—isn’t that reason enough to relax and smile? Be extra polite to people around you. Smile to those who work with you. You might get something totally unexpected – the nasty door bitch might let you in, the unhelpful waiter might serve you first, the grumpy receptionist might put you on the top of the waiting list, or you might suddenly score the date with that coffee shop girl. Suddenly it’s a much better world.
7. Dump the junk. Say goodbye to junk food of any sort. It’s fast, but unhealthy. Junk food is for teenagers only.
8. Walk 1.0. We all love the escalators at the MRT stations. They save energy and help us avoid those god-forbidden steps. But contrary to popular belief, although memorizing all the doors closest to the escalators might seem a wily decision, it’s damaging your body. Don’t underestimate this kind of exercise, as it adds up quickly and can work wonders on your legs and ass.
9. Tea before the treadmill. Caffeine helps you go harder over a longer period when consumed an hour before you work out. Tea works better than coffee, according to one study.
10. Shop sober. Never go grocery shopping when you’re starving. Hunger breeds cravings and irrational behavior – like taking samples from every person handing them out and filling your cart with seven flavors of potato chips. If your stomach is growling when you arrive at Fairprice, buy a container of yogurt or a banana first, eat it, THEN start your shopping.
11. Fill up on water. Most people who work in offices underconsume water and overconsume caffeine, which contributes to insomnia, irritability, anxiety and fatigue. Water helps your body work the way it should, and is necessary to build muscle and lose fat. Keep a liter bottle of water at your workstation at all times. Sip from it. When it’s empty, there’s your excuse to take a break—to fill it up or buy a new one.
12. Skip the sugar. For one week (to start), no soft drinks, sports drinks, fruit juice, or sweetened soya milk. Can’t shake the craving? Have ONE serving of fruit.
13. Stay at home, sickboy. If your doctor thinks you’re sick enough to stay at home, you should take his advice. Consider your colleagues as well – surely you don’t want to spread whatever you have to people in your office and ultimately people in the whole building (thanks to our infamous closed ventilation systems)? And taking a sick day off doesn’t mean you’re the weakest or most disloyal guy in the company. One recent UK study spanning nearly a decade found workers who never called in sick were twice as likely to die from a heart attack than people who took 14 sick days a year.
14. Cardio, then weights. If you’re doing both aerobic exercise and strength training, you’ll burn more calories if you ride the bike first, and then hit the dumbbells.
15. Take your vitamins. The best way to get vitamins and minerals is from food. But most of us don’t eat enough of the right things, plus we exacerbate it with alcohol, caffeine and nicotine. Especially in a city like Hong Kong, you may want to take antioxidant supplements, which support your body’s natural detoxification.
16. Wine is fine. One or two glasses of red wine per day may decrease your likelihood of getting cancer. Just remember – do it in moderation.
17. Get some rays. Vitamin D promotes calcium absorption, which is necessary for strong bones. It also boosts your immune system and makes you feel good. Ever seen a plant that’s been left to grow in the dark? To get what you need, sit in the sun for 10 minutes two-three times a week without sunscreen. (Apply sunscreen with SPF of at least 15 after the 10 minutes are up.)
18. Eat after your workout. For one to two hours after you exercise, your body is primed to use energy to build and repair muscle, as opposed to storing it as fat. Researchers at the University of Nevada found that a 30-minute workout increased the thermic (calorie-burning) effect by over 70 percent. So eat something healthy after the shower.
19. Focus on your food. If you’re trying to lose weight, don’t eat while you’re doing other things, such as reading or watching Desperate Housewives, as you’re likely to eat more than you would without such distractions. Just think how much junk food you can eat during a movie or a soccer match.
20. Sympathy day. Today you’re going to try to understand everyone’s point of view – except your own. That means for every person you come in contact with (including on the phone), try to imagine what it would be like to be this person and try to understand why they think and act the way they do. It doesn’t matter if you agree or disagree, because you will not place yourself in the picture. What a nice person you are. Nice people sleep well.
21. Stretch. Set aside 15 minutes in the morning or before you go to bed. Try these. Butterfly: sit on the floor with your knees bent and soles of your feet touching. Lean forward until you feel pressure in your groin. Hold for 60 seconds. Don’t bounce. Figure-four hamstring: sit on the floor with your left leg extended and your right leg bent so the sole of your foot touches your left leg. With your left hand, grab the toes of your left foot (or as close as possible). Hold for 60 seconds; switch legs. Side stretch: stand with your legs slightly spread, even with your shoulders. Extend your right arm straight up and then to the left until the right side of your body is “tight.” Hold for 60 seconds; switch sides.
22. Watch your back. Bad posture at your desk can cause tension, stress and, eventually, pain. Imagine your spine as an S-shape, not flat, so your chest should be out and your shoulders back. Crossing your legs, slouching and cradling a phone on your shoulder while typing are all requests for trouble. The top of your monitor should be at eye-level, as looking too far down or up for long periods of time can put a lot of strain on your spine and result in herniated discs. You may need to put a book or two under your monitor. Use your eyes, not your neck to look at the screen. Concentrate on your posture. Today, whether you are sitting, standing or walking, do it with your body straight. When you’re sitting, don’t just sit on one butt cheek – distribute your weight evenly, which means no fat wallets.
23. Breathe better. The average person (not Lance Armstrong) uses only 15 percent of his or her lung capacity. Try this exercise every morning. Place your hands on your ribs on both sides of your body. Take a huuuge breath, sucking in air until you’re like a balloon about to pop. You should feel your ribcage push outward slightly. Breath out slowly. Repeat four more times.
24. Chuck the chips. Instead of fried potato (or other) chips, munch on seeds (sunflower, pumpkin), almonds (unlike other nuts that are healthy but fattening, almonds have a unique cell structure that prevents your body from absorbing all of their fat) or green soy beans (a.k.a. edemame).
25. Get more sleep. Pretty obvious – and easier said than done. The golden rule is an average adult should get at least eight hours a day. But if you need more incentive, reducing your sleep time by 40 percent can lower the effectiveness of your immune system by half. Also, people who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to be overweight than people who get plenty of shuteye.
26. Sleep like a baby. If we all abide by the eight-hour rule, that means we spend one-third of our lives in bed. So why not make sure we’re enjoying it? Get a pillow made of “memory foam” that conforms its shape to yours when heated by your body temperature. It’s great for head and neck support. And buy a mattress that is firm enough for your back so you won’t wake up with backache.
27. Get a flu shot. Though this is not designed to protect you from bird flu, but your chances of getting the avian virus are greater if you’re already sick. Every year hundreds of thousands of people worldwide die from influenza, and millions get sick – and antibiotics are not going to do a thing. The very old and the very young are most at risk, but anyone can get hit. Flu vaccinations are considered 75 percent effective in preventing the flu or lessening its severity.
28. Go green. The older HK generation already knows this, but office workers throughout the city could do with the tip: This week, substitute your usual coffee for green tea. Among the many benefits of green tea is the ability to protect against colds. And even though those mass-produced green tea drinks in plastic bottles may be convenient, you’ll benefit much more from tea that you brew yourself – plus you won’t be consuming all that sugar.
29. Surprise yourself. Your mind loves surprises since novelty is the essence of happiness. Rearrange your furniture. Or take the bus instead of the MRT. According to one study, traveling on different physical pathways uses different pathways in the brain. If you’re trying to get fit, it’s also good to keep your body guessing. Mix it up. Today at the gym, do everything in the opposite order you normally do it. If you normally run on a treadmill, go for a run outside. If you normally ride a bike, try the rowing machine.
30. Give up TV for two weeks. During the time you save, read a book or take a walk in the park. You’ll feel much better when your tether to the satellite dish is cut.
31. Work out before breakfast if you’re trying to lose weight. Without an immediate supply of carbohydrates, your body will need to take calories from your fat stores. Or exercise at night. You’ll have more energy in the morning, according to one study.
32. Put the toilet lid down. Flushing the toilet can scatter fecal particles in a six-meter perimeter around the loo. Ewwww.
33. Buy plain yogurt and add your own fruit. Yogurt has untold benefits, including strengthening the immune system. But most fruit yogurts are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, which is high in calories and can increase the levels of triglycerides in your blood, raising your risk of heart disease.
34. Make scents. Different aromas can stimulate your brain and make you more alert. For a quick pick-me-up, try herbal teas or essential oils in scents like peppermint, green tea, orange and vanilla. But the expecting should be extra careful because essential oils COULD lead to miscarriages.
35. Go wild. We have lots of parklands and greenery, so go to MacRitchie, try the Bukit Timah Hill, and hop over to Sentosa for a nice day out and a long beach walk. You come back to town as refreshed as you are cleansed.
36. The rule of four. Taking the elevator is convenient, but you have to stand the crowd, the BO, the bad air and the company of unwelcome friends. So why don’t you walk up at least four flights to everywhere you go? You can choose walking up the first four flights or the last, as long as you can keep it as a habit. It does wonders for your legs and cardiovascular system.
37. Ban Arctic temperatures. In case the people who run offices, shopping malls and cinemas haven’t noticed, we live in a sub-tropical climate. Keeping the indoor temperature freezing is unnecessary, environmentally wasteful, and most of all, bad for our health. Blame the colonialists by all means, but do something about it. The optimum temperature should be 25.5C. Cool enough to chill, not so warm to cause noddings off.
38. Steamed, not fried. Chinese food is a blessing for those who like a taste of oily, deep-fried batter-covered delicacies. But exercise restraint, because it’s yummy once in a while, but your body thinks it’s yucky if you eat it too often. Instead of deep-fried chicken, order the steamed one and eat it without the skin. Instead of fried broccoli, ask for steamed.
39. Make love, not war. Heard that Mr. Bush? When commoners like us have more sex, we have healthier lives. For every 30 minutes of sexual intercourse, you burn approximately 150 calories. It can also lower cholesterol, relieve stress, kill pain, improve prostate and genital health – and that’s not even touching on the long-term benefits of greater intimacy.